Researchers at the University of Oxford have developed a new type of MRI scan to predict the risk of having a stroke, thanks to funding from the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
The non-invasive technique, described in a paper published in the journal JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging, produces a quantitative result that can accurately indicate whether plaques in the carotid arteries – those that supply the brain with blood - are rich in cholesterol, and therefore more likely to cause a stroke.
The rupture of fatty plaques can block the arteries and cause potentially debilitating and life-threatening strokes as the brain is starved of oxygen.
At present, the risk of stroke is measured by the size of the plaque in the carotid artery. If the plaque is deemed to be too big, people are treated surgically to remove it. However, this method can miss fatty plaques that are not big, but have a high risk of rupturing.
The new MRI technique was developed to differentiate between the risky plaques that contain a lot of cholesterol, and those that are more stable.
In the study, the researchers used the new MRI scan to measure the amount of cholesterol in the carotid plaques of 26 patients scheduled for surgery. After the plaques were surgically removed, the team looked at the actual cholesterol content in each plaque and found that the new technique was accurate and the more cholesterol they detected within the plaque, the greater the risk.
The work was a collaboration between researchers at the University of Oxford and surgeons working within the John Radcliffe Hospital and was supported by the BHF Centre of Research Excellence in Oxford and the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.
The stent, which is made of a naturally dissolving polymer, widens the clogged artery for two years before it is absorbed into the body in a manner similar to dissolvable sutures. The disappearing stent leaves nothing behind, thus eliminating risk of inflammation that can lead to late-stent thrombosis and restenosis. The patient is then free to go off platelet inhibiting or blood thinning medication, thereby qualifying them for a larger range of medical interventions when needed.
Within the last few years, researchers announced the discovery that neural signals associated with limb movement can be de-coded by computers. These codes can be used to operate external devices, like an artificial limb. Sensors can be implanted into muscles to identify these neural signals and relay them to a computer that can move and control a limb. Various research groups have demonstrated that sensors implanted into the brain itself can similarly be used to control prosthetic arms, wheelchairs, and even a full body exoskeleton.
This past year, two of the most intricate surgical practices, ophthalmology and neurology, have been experimenting with new technology that not only keeps surgeons’ heads up, but also immerses the surgeon into a high resolution, 3D visual representation of their subject. These stereoscopic systems also use data to generate visual templates for surgeons to execute certain tasks within a surgery. Experts and surgeons that have piloted the new systems believe the added comfort and visual information will allow surgeries to operate more efficiently and effectively.Additionally, medical residents will now have a clearer picture of exactly what the surgeon is seeing and doing, thereby gaining a better anatomical and technical understanding of surgery than ever before. Along the same lines, some of the world’s biggest software companies are building augmented reality lenses that are capturing the imagination of both the surgeon and medical educator.
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