New scan to predict stroke risk

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Researchers at the University of Oxford have developed a new type of MRI scan to predict the risk of having a stroke.

  • Strokes are the third biggest killer in the UK and a leading cause of disability
  • Almost 25,000 strokes in the UK are caused by carotid arteries
  • Researchers developed a non-invasive technique which can detect stroke-causing plaque (fatty deposits) in carotid arteries
  • The technique can differentiate between risky plaques containing large amounts of cholesterol and more stable ones

The new MRI technique, developed through research co-funded by EPSRC, can differentiate between risky plaques containing large amounts of cholesterol and more stable ones.

The technique can help medical staff to identify those patients requiring early treatment while enabling others to be spared surgery altogether.

The research team demonstrated the effectiveness of the technology by scanning the carotid plaques (fatty deposits) of 26 patients scheduled for surgery. After the plaques were surgically removed, the team found that actual cholesterol content in each plaque was consistent with that detected in the scans. The researchers later confirmed and extended their findings in another study on 50 people.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, says: “When someone suffers a mini-stroke, they often go on to suffer a more serious, or even deadly, stroke in the hours, days or weeks that follow. This exciting research opens up the possibility that in the future we may be able to more accurately identify people with carotid plaques that are likely to rupture and cause a stroke.”

Further research is now necessary before this advance can come into routine clinical practice. However, if successful the technique has the promise to save lives.

The project was conducted by the researchers in collaboration with surgeons at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, and was funded by EPSRC, the Medical Research Council (MRC), the British Heart Foundation, National Institute for Health Research Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, Wellcome Trust, Stroke Association and the Dunhill Medical Trust.