European scientists have developed a revolutionary new ultrasound device capable of identifying patients at imminent risk of a heart attack or stroke. The technique, which is the subject of a patent application, was developed by the SUMMIT project, which is supported by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).

Atherosclerosis occurs when plaques of fatty material build up on the inside walls of the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart and brain. If a plaque breaks up, the resulting blood clot could block the blood vessel and so cause a stroke or heart attack.

Both are leading causes of death; according to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease kills 17 million people globally every year, with many of these deaths being due to heart attacks and strokes.

Currently, detecting plaques that are at risk of breaking up involves expensive, risky, often painful procedures as medical devices are inserted into the blood vessels themselves.

Furthermore, these techniques can only be used to assess clots around the heart; inserting medical devices into the arteries leading to the brain is simply too dangerous.

The new technique developed by SUMMIT, dubbed Ultrasound-based Plaque Structure Analyses (UPSA), is non-invasive, requiring neither x-rays, needles, nor magnetic fields. In fact, it can be used at the patient’s bedside, just like the ultrasound machines used on pregnant women. Designed to be user friendly, the new technique will allow clinicians to easily identify patients at an increased risk of heart attack or stroke and follow them up appropriately.

Initial tests of the device have demonstrated its effectiveness; SUMMIT is now validating these results in further tests involving hundreds of patients across Europe. Meanwhile the project has applied for a patent on the novel technology.

‘We expect to get feedback on our patent application in the near future,’ said Isabel Gonçalves of the University Hospital in Malmö-Skåne in Sweden, one of the inventors of the device. ‘In my view our innovation is going to be a big hit if it continues giving positive results in the rest of the tests.’

Although the new device can be used on all patients at risk of heart attack or stroke, SUMMIT’s initial focus was on people with diabetes. Diabetes patients are at risk of a number of complications, including heart attack and stroke as well as damage to the blood vessels, kidneys and eyes. The goal of SUMMIT is to improve our ability to identify diabetes patients at greatest risk of developing complications, so that their treatment can be improved.

SUMMIT is supported by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), the world’s largest public-private partnership in health. Through collaborative projects that unite experts from industry, academia, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), patient groups, and regulators, IMI is developing tools and technologies to speed up the development of safer and better treatments for patients.

The EU contributes €1 billion to IMI; this is matched by in kind contributions of €1 billion from the member companies of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).

Project details

  • Project acronym: SUMMIT
  • Participants: Germany (Coordinator), UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Finland
  • Total costs: € 32 600 366
  • Duration: September 2009 - August 2014

Photo: © - fotolia

Source: European Commission - Research & Innovation - Information Centre
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