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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- This year, onemillion Americans will have a heart attack. Despite all of our advancements, doctors have not been able to predict who will have one, until now.

New research being done in West Michigan may change that.

Spectrum Health just completed a study that identifies where a heart attack occurs; now they are looking at how to stop one from happening.

"If you're lucky you make it to the hospital and we give you treatment. If you're unlucky you die before you get here," says Dr. Ryan Madder, an Interventional Cardiologist at Spectrum Health. "This is a major public health problem and we desperately are seeking ways of how to predict a heart attack before it happens."

Dr. Ryan Madder and his colleagues are one step closer to discovering how to do that. New imaging technology has allowed him and a team of researchers to identify the cholesterol build up responsible for heart attacks.

"The research was designed to look in the arteries of patients at the time they presented with a heart attack to see what we could glean about the cholesterol-rich nature of these lesions," explains Dr. Madder.

Madder's research was recently published in the American College of Cardiology publication 'Cardiovascular Interventions.'

"What's clear is that at these sites that cause heart attack, there is a very large amount of lipid that's accumulated and at that spot in the artery it's actually grown circumferentially around the vessel in many of these cases." Something that Dr. Madder says could only previously be seen during an autopsy. "We think that the lipid is probably present in the artery well before the heart attack happens."

And Madder says that's what makes this research so ground breaking; it can be used to identify who will have a heart attack. "One of the next steps is to do screening where we image the arteries of patients who have not yet had a problem."

Bringing doctors one step closer to predicting what was once unpredictable.

Spectrum Health hopes to begin studies that will identify patients at risk of having a heart attack in the next two years.

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