The accumulation of plaque inside the arteries can be an insidious condition with grave consequences that include blood clots and strokes, but luckily it does give off some tell-tale signs. Researchers in the UK have developed a new type of glowing probe that focuses on one of them, increasing its fluorescence in the presence of a key enzyme and possibly acting as an early warning sign for cardiovascular disease.
Known as atherosclerosis, the build-up of arterial plaque is a key driver of heart disease and stroke, and is in turn a leading cause of death in the Western world. One of the ways the condition can endanger human health is when the plaque actually breaks away from the artery walls, events known as intraplaque haemorrhages (IPHs), which can then restrict blood flow and lead to chronic disease or stroke.
The new probe, developed by scientists at Imperial College London, takes aim at an enzyme known as heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), which is produced in large amounts as IPHs take hold. The probe consists of two compartments that transfer fluorescent molecules between one another – one “donor” component and an “acceptor” component.