Two new experiments have followed up on earlier studiesthat found that cholesterol buildup in the plaque of bloodvessels contributes to heart attacks and strokes. The earlierstudies, examining how plaques inside the blood vesselsrupture and block blood flow, showed only a static image,according to findings reported in Clinical Cardiology (September2005). In the current study, the researchers wanted to seethe dynamic process to assess the transformation of cholesterolfrom a liquid to a solid. Specifically, they were interestedin whether the cholesterol crystals that form injure or disturbthe plaque.
The first experiment measured cholesterol crystallization inlarge cylinders. The second looked at the effects of crystalgrowth on blood-vessel-like membranes. Throughout the experiments,the crystals grew dramatically in size and finally piercedthe membranes.
"So far, treatments [to prevent heart attacks and strokes] havenot been focused" on cholesterol crystallization, noted lead investigatorGeorge S. Abela, MD. "Now, we have a target to attackwith the various approaches we have. In the past, we have treatedthe various stages that lead to this final stage, rather than preventingor treating this final stage of the condition."