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Are cholesterol crystals causing heart attacks?

Cholesterol crystals sharp as needles can tear through arteries prior to a heart attack.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Inside his lab at Michigan State University, Dr. George Abela discovered how cholesterol in your blood turns into crystals that damage arteries.

Those cholesterol crystals can lead to a heart attack.

This picture gives you an up close look at the jagged shards or crystals formed in cholesterol in an artery. Dr. Abela says they are sharp, "Like the top of a needle. It's exactly like that."

Credit: Michigan State University

They're strong enough to tear tiny holes in the artery that can eventually cause a heart attack. 

Credit: Michigan State University

Dr. George Abela discovered them ten years ago but his research didn't stop there. He recently found that bacteria settles into these tears and can lead to a life threatening infection. 

"If our systems break down, the bacteria may get out of control and will invade," he said. 

Dr. Abela proved that bacteria in our blood can attach to clots caused by the tears from the crystals causing infection in the heart valve. 

"We know that patients who have infections like pneumonia, sepsis, will often develop a heart attack after the infection. And this could be an explanation for these events." 

His research was published in PLOS One a peer-viewed, open-access scientific journal.

With his latest research published Dr. Abela moves on to his next question: What medications might help stop the infection from ever happening? 

"I love to see how we can solve a problem. For me, it's a challenge and I think about it, I wake up at night and I write notes. You know, it's something that drives me." he said.

Dr. Abela is now researching how aspirin can help dissolve those crystals so you don't have the damage in the first place. It's research that's happening right here in Michigan.

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