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New imaging technique to diagnose rare blood vessel disease

A Fellow of Robinson College is first author on an article published today in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Dr Andrej Corovic was part of a multi-disciplinary team of scientists and doctors led by senior research author Dr Jason Tarkin, which has demonstrated that a new clinical imaging technique holds major promise for the diagnosis and treatment of a rare group of inflammatory blood vessel disorders known as large vessel vasculitis (LVV).

LVV comprises two separate conditions, giant cell arteritis and Takayasu arteritis. Both are characterised by inflammation and thickening of major blood vessels such as the aorta and its branches that may ultimately lead to dangerous consequences such as visual loss and stroke. LVV is currently diagnosed with an imaging technique called positron emission tomography (PET), which uses a radioactive “tracer” to visualise certain body processes such as inflammation. Until now, the tracer 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (18F-FDG) has been used.

However, this latest research has revealed that the re-purposing of a different tracer, 68Gallium-DOTATATE, currently used to visualise certain types of tumours, could be used to identify high levels of inflammation within the aorta and other major blood vessels of patients with active LVV and track the response to therapies. There is a suggestion that this tracer may also offer advantages over the current “gold standard” for diagnosis.

Dr Corovic comments:

“One of the potential advantages of this technique over 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose PET imaging, is that it may be more specific for inflammatory cell activity, although a direct head-to-head comparison study would be required. My thanks to the study lead Dr Jason Tarkin, all the co-authors as well as our funders for supporting our research.”

The findings of this study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, the British Heart Foundation and the NIHR Imperial BRC, are expected to open new avenues for the clinical management of people affected by LVV.

Thickening and active inflammation within the ascending aorta of a patient with large vessel vasculitis.

Image panel shows thickening (asterisk) and active inflammation (highlighted with arrow) within the ascending aorta of a patient with large vessel vasculitis.

Corovic A, et al. Somatostatin Receptor PET/MR Imaging of Inflammation in Patients With Large Vessel Vasculitis and Atherosclerosis. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 2023 Jan 31; 81 (4).