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New research allows doctors to image dangerous ‘hardening’ of the arteries

Researchers at the , in collaboration with the , have shown how a radioactive agent developed in the 1960s to detect bone cancer can be re-purposed to highlight the build-up of unstable in arteries, a process that can cause and stroke. The technique, reported in the journal , could help in the diagnosis of these conditions in at-risk patients and in the development of new medicines.

Atherosclerosis – – is a potentially serious condition where arteries become clogged by a build-up of fatty deposits known as ‘plaques’. One of the key constituents in these deposits is calcium. In some people, pieces from the calcified artery can break away – if the artery supplies the brain or heart with blood, this can lead to stroke or heart attack.

“Hardening, or ‘furring’, of the arteries can lead to very serious disease, but it’s not clear why the plaques are stable in some people but unstable in others,” explains Professor David Newby, the BHF John Wheatley Professor of Cardiology at the Centre for Cardiovascular Science, University of Edinburgh. “We need to find new methods of identifying those patients at greatest risk from unstable plaques.”

Imaging atherosclerotic calcification using 18F-NaF positron emission tomography
Imaging atherosclerotic calcification or ‘hardening of the arteries’ using 18F-NaF positron emission tomography


Identifying active vascular microcalcification by 18F-sodium fluoride positron emission tomography, Irkle, A et al., Nature Communications, doi:10.1038/ncomms8495, published 7 July 2015.

Source: University of Cambridge