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NewsSolving the puzzle of vulnerable plaques in heart disease

Apr 7, 2022

Cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke account for almost 20% of all deaths in Canada. Many of these events are caused by “vulnerable plaques” that have built up on blood vessel walls. These plaques are susceptible to triggering large clots and blockages in blood vessels, leading to heart attack and stroke. While some plaques share common structural features like a thin cap and large core, not all plaques look the same, and distinguishing between vulnerable and stable plaques remains a puzzle.

To develop a better method to identify vulnerable plaque and at-risk patients, Dr. Ying Wang and the team, including Dr. Clint Miller (University of Virginia, USA),  and Dr. Amrit Singh (HLI), was recently funded by the New Frontiers in Research Fund to convert omics data, which is the molecular information of the plaques, into visible image pixels of plaques. This will allow the researchers to characterize the biological processes that are happening in each specific region of the plaque.

The findings from this project will be particularly important for females, who are less likely to have vulnerable plaques with thin caps and large cores compared to males, making these plaques especially difficult to identify and treat. Our study will reach this high-risk population that has not been well studied by prior research because of biases in sample selection and lack of interdisciplinary communication.

“This project is an exciting new collaboration that is right at the interface of bioinformatics and digital pathology. It will be the first step towards our longer term goal of identifying patients who are at high risk for cardiovascular events.” Dr. Ying Wang, Assistant Professor, UBC Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Centre for Heart Lung Innovation