9/11 Responders May Face Increased Risk of Dangerous Artery Plaque

Researchers have uncovered a possible link to an increased risk of atherosclerosis – plaque in arteries – among the first responders in New York City who were exposed to the initial dust cloud on 9/11.

Mount Sinai School of Medicine researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to evaluate the blood vessels of 19 World Trade Center (WTC) first responders exposed to the high levels of particulate matter from the dust cloud, as well as 12 who were exposed to lower levels. The study found that workers who were exposed to the initial dust cloud had higher blood vessel formation in their artery plaque compared to people with lower exposure.

Researchers also found impaired vascular reactivity, or dysfunction of the inner lining of blood vessels, in those with higher dust exposure. This dysfunction may accelerate the progression of atherosclerosis.

This was the first study to use MRI technology to evaluate cardiovascular risk in WTC first responders.

"Using noninvasive MRI imaging, we were able to see a significant impact of the events of 9/11 on the cardiovascular health of the brave men and women who responded that day," said Zahi Fayad, Ph.D., professor of Radiology, and Medicine in the Division of Cardiology, and the director of the Translational and Molecular Imaging Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "Now that we have visualized the risk and early development of vascular lesions, in a subset of subjects, we look forward to studying the use of imaging in the greater patient population."

Mary Ann McLaughlin, M.D., MPH, associate professor of medicine and the study’s primary investigator, said the study “defines physiologic change associated with greater exposure to the dust cloud at the WTC site.”

McLaughlin stressed that she and other researchers are evaluating other predictors of cardiovascular risk in this population to gain a better understanding of the impact of particulate matter exposure on their cardiovascular health.

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