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MRI contrast agent can detect heart attack in the making

CHICAGO, March 27 A new bright spot in heart disease research may soon allow physicians to peer directly into patients' blood vessels and find dangerous cholesterol-filled plaques before they rupture and cause a heart attack.

Scientists at New Yorks Mount Sinai Medical Center and the New York University School of Medicine, under the direction of Dr. Edward A. Fisher, M.D., Ph.D., and Dr. Zahi A. Fayad, M.D., Ph.D., have developed a synthetic molecule that delivers an imaging enhancer to cholesterol-filled cells embedded in the arterial walls. In animal tests, the enhancer improved cholesterol detection by 79 percent.

The new technique would allow physicians to diagnose unstable plaques before they rupture, and save lives by identifying the highest risk patients, says Fayad, director of the Mount Sinai cardiovascular imaging research laboratory.

When used with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the plaques appear bright, allowing physicians to measure inflammation in artery walls and assess overall cholesterol buildup. The technique also could be used to follow a patients response to therapy.

Details of the new technique were described today at the 233rd national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the worlds largest scientific society, by David Cormode, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, who worked with the group.

Efforts to view cholesterol buildup in arteries have long been hindered by the inability to deliver imaging agents directly into plaques. Even in diseased arteries, the lining is often intact, preventing particles from entering the plaque.

But high-density lipoprotein, also known as HDL or good cholesterol, moves freely through this barrier to carry cholesterol out of plaques to the liver, where it is eliminated from the body.

Using an artificially synthesized peptide, the scientists devised a way to construct HDL-like molecules that could t
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