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Two new experiments have followed up on earlier studies that found that cholesterol buildup in the plaque of blood vessels contributes to heart attacks and strokes. The earlier studies, examining how plaques inside the blood vessels rupture and block blood flow, showed only a static image, according to findings reported in Clinical Cardiology (September 2005). In the current study, the researchers wanted to see the dynamic process to assess the transformation of cholesterol from a liquid to a solid. Specifically, they were interested in whether the cholesterol crystals that form injure or disturb the plaque.
The first experiment measured cholesterol crystallization in large cylinders. The second looked at the effects of crystal growth on blood-vessel-like membranes. Throughout the experiments, the crystals grew dramatically in size and finally pierced the membranes.
"So far, treatments [to prevent heart attacks and strokes] have not been focused" on cholesterol crystallization, noted lead investigator George S. Abela, MD. "Now, we have a target to attack with the various approaches we have. In the past, we have treated the various stages that lead to this final stage, rather than preventing or treating this final stage of the condition."