Latest figures show that stroke now costs the UK healthcare system an estimated £2 billion every year. It is estimated that stroke costs the UK as much as £9 billion a year as a society (1).

Professor Peter Jezzard, the Herbert Dunhill Neuroimaging Chair, is one of a team of researchers at the University of Oxford who have developed a new type of MRI scan to predict the risk of having a stroke.

The results of their work are described in a paper published in the journal JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging. (2)

Their work has shown that this non-invasive technique produces a quantitative result that can accurately indicate whether plaques in the carotid arteries, which supply the brain with blood, are rich in cholesterol, and therefore more likely to cause a stroke.

At present, the risk of stroke is measured by the size of the plaque in the carotid artery. If the plaque is deemed to be too big, people are treated surgically to remove it. However, this method can miss fatty plaques that are not big, but have a high risk of rupturing.

The new MRI technique was developed to differentiate between the risky plaques that contain a lot of cholesterol, and those that are more stable.

In the study, the researchers used the new MRI scan to measure the amount of cholesterol in the carotid plaques of 26 patients scheduled for surgery. After the plaques were surgically removed, the team looked at the actual cholesterol content in each plaque and found that the new technique was accurate and the more cholesterol they detected within the plaque, the greater the risk.

The team have confirmed and extended their findings in another study on 50 people, which has been published in PLOS ONE (3)

This work was a collaboration between researchers at the University of Oxford (4) and surgeons working within the John Radcliffe Hospital and was supported by the British Heart Foundation Centre of Research Excellence in Oxford and the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.

The researchers were supported by The British Heart Foundation, The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC), The Stroke Association and Wellcome.

Notes to editors

  1. Stroke – State of the Nations 2017 – Stroke Association
  4. The Acute Vascular Imaging Centre, where this work took place, is an internationally unique facility dedicated to clinical research in acute coronary syndromes (heart attack and unstable angina) and stroke and TIA.