UVA researchers working on method to prevent strokes, heart attacks

Updated: Mar. 25, 2021 at 11:54 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Researchers at the University of Virginia, as well as other doctors, are trying to figure out how to prevent heart attacks and strokes from occurring.

“Atherosclerosis develops in almost everybody over decades. So it’s this chronic disease, and the build up of plaque in the artery is for the most part not a huge deal until it becomes a huge deal,” Alexandra Newman, postdoctoral researcher at New York University, said.

Newman and Dr. Gary K. Owens, the head of UVA’s Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center, say this build up of plaque in the artery can cause a heart attack or stroke when the plaque becomes unstable and ruptures.

“When you have this plaque rupture, then you have these catastrophic downstream events like a myocardial infarction or heart attack or a stroke because a little blood clot will travel down an artery and then stop up a smaller artery and then you lose blood flow to that tissue and that’s kind of the worst outcome,” Newman said.

That’s why Newman and Owens are working on methods to increase the stability of fibrous caps within the atherosclerotic plaque to prevent these rupturing events from happening.

“Hopefully in a few years down the road, we’ll have additional drugs that people can take not just to lower your lipids, which is only modestly effective, but also enable you to form stronger fibrous caps to prevent these ruptures and erosions that lead to stroke and heart attacks,” Owens said.

Newman says preventing this type of rupture is like putting a patch on a tire:

“You have something that happens to puncture the tire and then you put a patch on it, now it’s kind of not losing air anymore. You can still use the tire,” Newman said.

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