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There’s been research done recently at the North Carolina State University as well as UNC at Chapel Hill that focuses on the ability of ultrasound technology to detect and specifically identify the arterial plaque that breaks off in arteries and leads to strokes or heart attacks. MDlinx.com writes: “Researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed an ultrasound device that could help identify arterial plaque that is at high risk of breaking off and causing heart attack or stroke.”

This is an important discovery as the buildup of this plaque is something that progressively increases with age, and while some plague is normal and may never cause you any serious health concerns, the more vulnerable plaque that leaves the walls of the arteries and enters the blood stream could be a danger to your life.

Current Technology

There is, of course, already technology in place that can help monitor the amount of plaque in your arteries, and this is being used in hospitals today to verify whether or not you could be at risk for a stroke or heart attack, but there is a very considerable difference in this standardized equipment. Science Daily reports: “Existing state-of-the-art technologies are capable of determining if plaque is present in the arteries, but can’t tell whether it’s vulnerable.”

This means that it’s basically impossible to know whether or not there’s a serious risk, or if the plaque being seen is just normal buildup that won’t ever cause severe trouble. One of the doctors in the biomedical engineering department at North Carolina State and the Chapel Hill facility, Dr. Paul Dayton has made it known that the main goal during development and testing was to find a tool that could be used to discover what kind of plaques were visible in the arteries of monitored patients and whether or not the vulnerable plaque was among them. To figure this out, the team in research and development relied on something labeled microbubbles.

What Are Microbubbles

A microbubble is a tool used by the testers that is injected into the artery so that the ultrasound technician can follow its path through the bloodstream. During this time the same contrasting element will be used to search for small clusters of blood vessels that infiltrate arterial plaque and gather around these particular vessels, which are referred to as vasa vasorum, and are known as an indicator of vulnerable plaque. As the microbubbles find these tiny vessels and gather around them and flow through them they are highlighted during the ultrasound and doctors can pick them out in the images. T. Goodman of Inventor Spot says: “Both procedures use contrast microbubbles – microbubbles that are colored with dye so that they will show up in imaging. In one technique, microbubbles are injected into the artery, where they highlight where the blood is flowing.”

These microbubbles are one of the main reasons that this new use of technology makes it possible to reduce heart failure. In fact, the main reason that current plaque detecting technology can’t decipher which is which, comes down to the fact that it isn’t as successful at locating the contrast agents, like the bubbles being used.

New Developments

Unlike ordinary ultrasounds that are used to monitor possible interior trouble or fetal growth in pregnancy women, these new machines operate on dual frequency, and are intravascular ultrasound transducers, which can send out and also receive acoustic signals during monitoring. This means that although they do perform the same tasks as previously utilized devices of the same variety, they have much greater odds of finding the microbubbles, or contrast agents used to seek out the vasa vasorum, then other kinds of equipment used in the molecular imaging field. Currently these developments are being kept to the lab, and are in testing phases with the hopes of launching equipment for medical use sometime in the near future.

Previous Work With Ultrasounds

Using ultrasounds to determine health flaws isn’t a new theory, but over the years there have been other investigations into the determination of heart disease through the use of these machines. In particular one such study covered the capabilities of this equipment to predetermine heart failure in HIV patients, which helped to aid in the prevention of heart related issues. Unfortunately, HIV is one disease where the heart weakens, and this makes heart attacks a common occurrence. Another disorder that requires monitoring through a special kind of ultrasound is used in people who display symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Patients who have this ailment run a greater risk of developing heart disease, and if the early signs can be caught before a more permanent stage of heart duress sets in then treatment can be administered before a patient is placed at a point where there’s serious danger of a heart attack; medicinenet.com advises: “Diagnostic methods commonly used by doctors, however, often underestimate the degree of heart danger in these patients.”

One of the biggest problems that was found during the processes used with that model of ultrasound was that not only is it difficult to determine heart failure rates early on, it can also be hard to spot rheumatoid arthritis early enough to have time to gain an intervention period. In one lab test, a speckle-tracking echocardiography ultrasound was used on one hundred patients displaying symptoms of arthritis, as well as fifty volunteers who had no problem with either arthritis or any form of heart disease. Due to the unique pattern that was spotted throughout the arthritic patients in their heart impairment, scientists were able to develop methods to better spot a problem before it begins.