Current attempts to view cholesterol plaques are hampered by problems delivering imaging agents into cholesterol plaques.
But research presented at the 233rd national meeting of the American Chemical Society this week has shown this problem can be overcome using an HDL-like synthesised peptide called 37pA.
HDL molecules can move freely into cholesterol plaques where they remove cholesterol from the plaque into the liver for elimination from the body.
The 37pA peptide works by mimicking a major protein found in HDL and contains two structures required for lipid binding. The outer phospholipid layer of the 37pA peptide was spiked with gadolinium, a metal frequently used to enable cholesterol to stand out in an MRI image.
For this latest study, the 37pA peptide was injected into five mice genetically engineered to have a good model of human atherosclerosis and two wild-type mice, with MRI tests taken 24 hours later.
The researchers found the synthetic HDL enabled them to detect 79 per cent more of the plaques, compared with baseline images taken the day before.
Mice without the cholesterol plaques showed no enhancement of imaging.
Lead researcher Dr David Cormode of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York said: ‘We are looking at an HDL-based platform because it actually targets cholesterol plaque and takes away plaque — not very much but enough to have some benefit.’