In Canada, cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) is the leading cause of death and disease in men and women, causing 1 death every 7 minutes. The underlying cause behind cardiovascular disease is atherosclerosis, a fatty thickening of blood vessel or artery walls that blocks/slows blood passage. Atherosclerosis begins silently very early in life, long before the usual cardiovascular risk factors appear (high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, etc.). As physicians, our current methods of predicting disease are based on these risk factors, so we're simply not very good at detecting who is silently developing atherosclerosis. As it grows, usually by age 50 or more, atherosclerosis in the heart finally does reveal itself and causes heart attacks, or when localized to the brain causes stroke, hence the importance of identifying those at risk of such an adverse event.
Although I am currently in the process of characterizing the prevention of atherosclerosis progression in diverse populations across the spectrum of atherosclerosis risk, a question still remains: will the prevention of atherosclerosis result in a reduction of future adverse events? And what atherosclerosis features (blood vessel wall size and composition) are the most closely associated with future adverse events? Thus, this new research program seeks to determine if looking at the imaging features of atherosclerosis by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) does a better job at predicting future adverse events than current care in the typical doctors' office, in men and women 1) with symptoms of cardiovascular disease, 2) without known cardiovascular disease, but with risk factors, and 3) apparently healthy without risk factors.
This research program will therefore identify atherosclerosis features that improve doctors' ability to predict adverse events to better pinpoint future victims. This will greatly impact strategies to prevent cardiovascular disease in young people as older ones.