A study is finding treatments for carotid artery disease

Submitted on Fri, 03/23/2018 - 13:27
Reijo Laaksonen ja Terho Lehtimäki
Reijo Laaksonen and Terho Lehtimäki participate in the international Taxinomisis study, which received six million euros from the EU for subprojects conducted in ten European countries. Photographs: Jonne Renvall and Teemu Launis

Professors Reijo Laaksonen and Terho Lehtimäki received significant EU funding

Text: Jaakko Kinnunen

Researchers at the University of Tampere have received major EU funding for research on carotid artery disease. The funding of 800,000 euros is equally distributed between the research groups of professors Terho Lehtimäki and Reijo Laaksonen.

The total funding of the Taxinomisis study, which is carried out in ten European countries, is six million euros. The University of Ioannina in Greece is coordinating the research. The study will continue for five years. “We are talking about major funding. The University of Tampere brings expertise on high-quality bioinformatics to the project,” Lehtimäki says.

Arteriosclerosis in the carotid arteries causes approximately 30 percent of strokes. Cholesterol and plaque accumulate in the arteries that carry blood to the brain and small pieces of clot or plaque may break off and travel to the brain. Such a piece may cause a cerebrovascular disorder where the patient loses consciousness, limb function or speech. The situation can pass by itself, but a piece of plaque that ends up in cerebral vasculature may cause a stroke.

The brain can withstand oxygen deficiency for only a few minutes, after which the brain tissue begins to die. In a few hours, the blocked blood vessel will lead to a stroke if the person does not get thrombolytic therapy. “If a person loses their speech or consciousness, it is vital to get them to hospital as quickly as possible," says Lehtimäki.

In the study, researchers at the University of Tampere seek to identify plaque subtypes in the arteries. More accurate diagnosis will help to find the most effective treatments. Depending on the type of plaque, the patient can be treated by either surgery or medication.

“The study tries to find ways to make earlier diagnoses and start more efficient treatments, which will save a lot of money. When young people get severe strokes, society loses their entire work contribution. Rehabilitation is expensive regardless of whether the patient will ever be able to work again. In addition, paralysis causes tremendous suffering for patients and their loved ones,” Lehtimäki explains.

The risk factors of carotid artery disease are similar to those in other vascular diseases: advanced age, male sex, smoking, high blood pressure and a high level of bad LDL-cholesterol, overweight, and type 2 diabetes. The genome also predisposes some people to the disease. If first degree relatives have suffered from vascular diseases, the risk of illness is more significant.

“Poor nutrition also plays a role. Salty and greasy food does its job slowly. The artery is gradually blocked over several years, and the disease may be asymptomatic for a long time. It is an insidious disease that comes to many patients as a great surprise,” Lehtimäki says.