The heart keeps our blood in motion and supplies the cardiovascular system and thus our organs with nutrients. When blood vessels are narrowed because of sediments, known as plaque, the blood circulation is affected. This disease of the coronary vessels is called atherosclerosis which is the most common cause of heart attack. A patient’s heart attack risk is not determined by how narrow a coronary artery is, but by the degree of artery wall inflammation as inflammatory processes in the vessel walls are responsible for the rupture of the vessel wall. Subsequently, a blood clot develops that blocks the vessel and leads to heart attack.
In order to visualise and judge local and temporal dimensions of such inflammations immunologist Dr. Thomas Vogl, chemist Dr. Andreas Faust and nuclear medicine specialist Dr. Sven Hermann work together to develop tracers for molecular imaging. Smokers as well as people with high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated blood lipid levels or other known risk factors, suffer heart attacks more frequently than others. For people belonging to one of these high-risk groups these new imaging methods are aimed at determining whether, in their particular case, the disease is actually present and thereby their individual risk of heart attack is high. For patients already diagnosed with atherosclerosis the new methods will allow checking whether there is an acute risk of heart attack.