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Healthy Life Report: Is it a Heart Attack--or a False Alarm?

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BACKGROUND: Every year, millions of people go to the emergency room with chest pain. In most cases, patients have to be admitted to the hospital to undergo tests to rule out or confirm a heart attack. These tests can be expensive and take up a lot of time. Rather than having an overnight stay at the hospital to make sure the patient is stable, new technology known as the spectral CT could reveal the location of a blood clot in a matter of hours. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis say they've designed nanoparticles that find clots and make them visible to a new kind of X-ray technology. (SOURCE: Washington University School of Medicine)

ABOUT THE SCAN: When a person suffers a heart attack, the lining of their coronary artery ruptures, and a clot forms to repair it. The same clot also narrows the vessel, blocking the flow of blood. These nanoparticles (which are mixed into a solution that is injected into patients) are able to "see" that clot. Not only that, but the spectral CT scanner is capable of "seeing" metals in color. It uses the full spectrum of the X-ray beam to differentiate objects that would be indistinguishable with a regular CT scanner that sees only black and white. The nanoparticles are targeted to a protein in the blood clot called fibrin. One of the major problems with a traditional CT image is that it shows no difference between the blood clot and the calcium in the plaque, making it unclear if it is a clot that should be treated. However, a spectral CT image actually sees the nanoparticles targeted to fibrin, differentiating it from calcium in the plaque. (SOURCE: Washington University School of Medicine)

APPLICATION: The nanoparticles and spectral CT scanner cannot only confirm a heart attack but also show a clot's exact location. Since the nanoparticles find and stick to fibrin in the vessels, they would allow doctors to see problems that were previously difficult or often even impossible to detect. The spectral CT scanner is still a prototype instrument. Philips Research in Hamburg, Germany developed the technology. The nanoparticles have only been tested in rabbits and other animal models, but early results show success in distinguishing blood clots from calcium interference.

The work was completed with the help of grants from the National Cancer Institute, Bioengineering Research Partnership, American Heart Association, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Judy Martin
Associate Director Media Relations
Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
(314) 286-0105

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