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MRI Might Have Found Tim Russert’s Killer

May 27, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Cardiac Imaging, Diagnostic Imaging
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MRI might have detected the dangerous arterial plaque condition that led to the death of TV newsman Tim Russert, according to new research from Boston University School of Medicine.

Russert, longtime moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, died on June 13, 2008, at age 58. He suffered a sudden rupture of a plaque, causing a blockage in a coronary artery and leading to a heart attack. His physician said Russert had shown no symptoms of coronary artery disease and had performed well on a stress test less than two months before his death.

The Boston University researchers used rabbits to test the ability of MRI to detect plaques. They disrupted plaque at a precise time, allowing MRI imaging before and after the rupture. They discovered that plaques that were hidden within the artery wall, pushing the wall outward, had a very high chance of creating thrombosis (blockage). Plaques that caused narrowing of the artery were almost always stable. This, the researchers said, could explain why X-ray angiography, which measures blood flow, usually fails to detect the most dangerous plaques.

MRI, on the other hand, was able to identify both stable and unstable plaques.

“The MRI exams reported are promising for application to human disease because they are noninvasive, use a clinically approved contrast agent, and are performed using a clinical MRI scanner,” said lead author James A. Hamilton, PhD. Hamilton is a professor of biophysics and physiology and a research professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.

“The findings suggest that MRI may be used as a noninvasive modality for localization of plaques that are prone to disruption,” he said. If MRI can detect the high-risk plaques, then treatment can begin in time to head off stroke or heart attack.

The study’s findings appear in the May issue of Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging.

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