The aorta is the largest artery in the body and connects the heart to the vital organs. In 1 in 100 people, the closest part of the aorta to the heart widens, becoming an aneurysm. In the majority of cases, an aneurysm of the aorta forms when it is weak. People with an aneurysm of the aorta are at risk of sudden tearing of the aorta (aortic dissection), which carries a high death rate. Most people with an aneurysm of the aorta receive regular scans to monitor the size of the aneurysm. Once the aneurysm reaches a certain size – often between 50 and 55 mm – guidelines recommend surgery to replace the diseased part. Sadly, this strategy misses 70% of patients who eventually experience tearing of the aorta.
Dr. Stephanie Sellers, a Principal Investigator at the HLI, and Dr. Alex Fletcher & Prof. David Newby (University of Edinburgh) along with international team members from the University of British Columbia, University of Edinburgh and University of Liverpool, explored whether microscopic calcification, which is formed in areas of the body under stress, could be used as a marker of those with high-risk aneurysms. The team found that in mild aneurysm disease there is a rise in microscopic calcification, but in severe disease – when the aneurysm is very weak – this calcification is lost. The team also demonstrated that this microscopic process could be tracked using a special scan test called a PET scan using a special tracer called 18F-NaF.
“Our study is an important step towards identifying patients at the highest risk of aortic aneurysm disease. Using these PET scans, our hope is to find patients who can be treated with early, life-saving surgery.”Dr. Stephanie Sellers, Clinical Assistant Professor, UBC, and Principal Investigator at HLI
This study was published in Atherosclerosis Thrombosis & Vascular Biology and featured as the journal cover.