Diagnosis of life threatening cardiovascular disease
Heart attack, medically referred to as acute myocardial infarction (AMI), is the leading cause of death in the United States and most other industrialized nations throughout the world. Approximately 800,000 people in the United States are affected each year and, in spite of a better awareness of manifesting symptoms, 250,000 die before reaching a hospital.
For some time, it has been suspected that the most common triggering event for AMI is the rupture of an unstable atherosclerotic plaque in a coronary artery. The ruptured plaque causes blood clots to form which can sometimes completely block the flow of blood in the coronary artery. In this event, the heart muscles are starved of oxygen and the heart muscle cells die. The heart damage is permanent and puts the patient at risk for potentially life threatening repercussions. Because everybody has atherosclerotic plaques in their arteries, the ability to differentiate the unstable “vulnerable” plaques from the stable, non-threatening ones can be a major preventative advance.
Proof of this theory has depended entirely on post-mortem evidence. Until recently, it has not been possible to study in living persons coronary plaques and the complex events that cause vulnerable plaques to rupture. Drs. Gary Tearney and Brett Bouma, through their significant advances in the technology of optical coherent tomography, have made possible real time, live imaging of coronary arteries in patients. Using a 3D endoscope the size of a human hair, they have begun to collect video images that display location, variation and changes in coronary plaques in live patients, including rupture of vulnerable plaques.
Data gathered from early clinical studies confirm that this technology should be able to provide a means of early detection of high risk plaques in patients before they experience an AMI, and that the instrument can play a valuable role in guiding and evaluating therapeutic treatments for life- threatening cardiac conditions.