A Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH) research team has developed a molecular image analysis method that can detect pulmonary arterial hypertension at an early stage.

The team, led by Professor Lee Seung-pyo, Park Jun-bin, and Pang Jin-chul at the hospital, sand that their method could evaluate the pulmonary hypertension inflammatory response, which may be used for the early diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension and confirmation of treatment response.

Pulmonary arterial hypertension is a disease in which the pulmonary artery narrows for no particular reason. Its symptoms include pressure rise and the fall in the patient's right ventricular function. Such symptoms lead to the blood not flowing from the heart to the lungs smoothly and can cause shortness of breath, heart failure, and even death.

Despite the steady development of medical technology, the five-year survical rate for pulmonary arterial hypertension is only about half. Due to the prognosis of the disease, early diagnosis and treatment are essential.

To develop an early diagnosis model, the researchers foucused on the inflammatory response in the pulmonary blood vessels of patients. The researchers hypothesized that if they visualized and quantified the inflammatory response, they could confirm the development of pulmonary arterial hypertension.

The team determined the inflammatory response through the degree of macrophage invasion.

To confirm their theory, the SNUH researchers injected a 68Ga-NOTA-MSA compound into the body using a marker. After a positron emission tomography scan, the expression of this marker increased as the macrophage infiltration became more severe.

"In other words, the marker was used to colorize the inflammatory response associated with pulmonary arterial hypertension," the team said in a press release. "In actual clinical trials, patients with pulmonary hypertension showed significantly higher color expression than the healthy control group."

The team stressed that the significance of this study was that it opened the possibility of early detection of pulmonary arterial hypertension.

"The main symptoms of pulmonary arterial hypertension are shortness of breath and dizziness," it team said. "It's a relatively common phenomenon in everyday life, so people tend to ignore it or treat it as another disease." That explains why treatment for the disease was often delayed, the team added.

According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average time to diagnose pulmonary hypertention accurately was 1.5years.

Accurate diagnosis also requires a costly examination by inserting wires into the body. However, the newly developed imaging technique is noninvasive and is simpler than the existing test.

"Early diagnosis of pulmonary arterial hypertension is vital, and efforts have been made to diagnose it at an early stage of the disease," Professor Lee said. "We expect the study will contribute to the early diagnosis and prognosis of pulmonary arterial hypertension."

American Journal of Repiratory and Critical Care Medicine published the results of the research.

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