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Atherosclerosis – the disease in which this plaque build-up occurs – is the main underlying cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

There are two types of plaque: stable and unstable.

Stable plaques can lead to a narrowing of the opening of the arteries over time, so much so that they become obstructive, ie, they restrict blood flow. This obstructive stable plaque can be detected and treated.

In contrast, unstable plaques are prone to rupture even before they are large enough to obstruct blood flow. Rupture of an unstable plaque can give rise to a thrombus (blood clot) that can limit, or even completely block, the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, the brain and other parts of the body. When the occlusion occurs in one of the two main coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart, it can result in a heart attack.

Unstable plaques are potentially dangerous because they can cause a sudden blockage to a person’s blood flow with no warning. Presently, there are no simple, non-invasive tests available to specifically detect unstable plaque.

The risk

While the exact cause of atherosclerosis and atherosclerotic plaque build-up is not known, it is linked to certain risk factors:

Visit the risk factors page for more information.

What is HRI doing?

HRI is conducting groundbreaking research from a broad range of angles to understand how atherosclerotic plaque develops and to find innovative ways of preventing, detecting and treating the resultant cardiovascular disease.

Our Arterial Inflammation and Redox Biology Group is investigating unstable atherosclerotic plaque, which can cause blockages leading to heart attack, and how to detect and prevent the formation of this high-risk plaque.

Our Thrombosis Group is investigating how atherosclerotic plaque can promote the formation of blood clots.

Our Atherosclerosis and Vascular Remodelling Group aims to identify and gain insights from the genetic and molecular pathways involved in atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.


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