Micro-bubbles detecting artery inflammation in pigs may help people, MU study shows

The study, if effective in humans, may help those in risk for heart disease and stroke.

A study published by MU researchers found that a technique used to detect artery inflammation in pigs could help identify people at risk for strokes and detect heart disease before in its early stages.

“The cardiovascular anatomy and physiology of the pigs is very similar to that of humans,” said Isabelle Masseau, assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, who participated in the study. “The pig model used for this study spontaneously develops lesions of atherosclerosis that are similar to those seen in humans.”

The researchers collaborated with a company called Targeson to develop the micro-bubbles, Masseau said. The bubbles were then attached to antibodies and injected into the pigs with heart disease, according to an MU News Bureau news release.

The antibodies detected the adhesion molecule VCAM-1, found on the internal lining at sites of artery inflammation, and together with the micro-bubbles, fastened to the inflammation sites, Masseau said. With the aid of a contrast-enhanced ultrasound, the team was able to find the micro-bubbles, and therefore, artery inflammation sites.

While it was successful in pigs, human trials still need to take place to determine the effectiveness of the technique on humans, Masseau said. If more studies in the next few years are successful, including those done on animals, MU can request permission from the government to conduct human trials.

“While it would still be a few years away, injecting targeted micro-bubbles into a human and then scanning them with an ultrasound would be a very simple procedure and could potentially help save lives”, Masseau said.

Another part of the research examined how exercise influenced artery inflammation in pigs. The pigs were first subjected to exercise on a treadmill for one hour, five days a week, for 16 to 20 weeks, Masseau said. The pigs were then injected with micro-bubbles to seek out any artery inflammation. The study concluded that exercise did not impact the level of inflammation in the carotid arteries.

MU researchers Douglas Bowles, Michael Davis, Jan Ivey, David Harah and Darla Tharp joined Masseau in the study. The researchers came from the MU Department of Biomedical Sciences and from the MU Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center, and assisted with different elements of the study. The study began after the group obtained funding from the National Institutes of Health for their study in November 2008.

“(I) really enjoyed working on this project and would hope to work on similar projects in the future,” Masseau said.

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