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Australian scientists discovered a way that could help identify people at risk of heart attack

Photo: New tools to identify, treat heart attacks
New research led by the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute has developed an early warning system for those at risk of heart attacks.

Australian scientists have discovered a simple way that could help identify people at risk of suffering a heart attack - and potentially prevent them.

Heart attacks killed an average of 22 Australians a day in 2016, the equivalent of one death every 66 minutes.

The underlying cause is the build up of a plaque made up of fatty material and inflammatory cells inside the heart's arteries.

Some plaques are vulnerable to rupture, resulting in a clot that blocks blood flow to the heart - causing a heart attack.
Researchers at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute have been able to identify the presence of dangerous plaques using a chemical injection that highlights it "like a neon sign" on an MRI scan.

Professor Roland Stocker said no-one has been able to do this before and it will provide doctors with early warning that they need to intervene.

"We now have the potential tools to specifically identify those at high risk of heart attack by using non-invasive MRI to detect vascular inflammation," he said in a statement on Thursday.

"Aside from leading a healthy lifestyle, this 'early warning system' could be our best defence against heart attacks, many of which may be fatal."

The research team found that the plaque could be stabilised and less prone to rupture with a drug that inhibits inflammatory enzyme activity.

It also decreased bleeding and clotting in the artery wall, Prof Stocker said.

Scientists are now preparing the method for human trials following the successful mouse study.

Victor Chang Institute's executive director Professor Bob Graham said making the new tools clinically available will time and more funding, but labelled it "a discovery that Australians should be very proud of".

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