PARIS (AFP) – The diagnosis is more than 3,500 years late, but no less stunning for all of that. An Egyptian princess who lived between 1580 and 1550 BC has become the earliest person in human history to be diagnosed with coronary heart disease, according to computer scans presented at a medical conference this week.
"We can't be sure what she died of, but we can see what illnesses she had," Gregory Thomas, director of Nuclear Cardiology Education at the University of California at Irvine, said by phone.
Researchers delved into the mummy of Princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon using a computerised tomography (CT) scanner, a non-invasive technique that gives highly detailed cross-sectional images of the body.
The princess, who died in her 40s, had atherosclerosis, or a buildup of fatty material, in two of her three main coronary arteries, the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) said in a press release.
"Today she would have needed by-pass surgery," said Thomas, who led the analysis.
The work was to be presented this week at an annual conference of non-invasive cardiovascular imaging, taking place in Amsterdam, the ESC said.
The May 15-18 event showcases advances in diagnostic tools for heart doctors.
Thomas said he was struck by how much atherosclerosis was found in the remains of the princess, who lived in Thebes, as modern-day Luxor is known.
The princess -- daughter of Seqenenre Tao II, the last pharaoh of the 17th dynasty -- is among 52 mummies that were scanned under a study called Horus.
Arterial clogging is typecast as a curse of today's high-fat diets, yet the contemporary diet was rich in vegetables and fruit, limited in meat and tobacco was unknown.
It could be that the princess could have been showered in more meat, butter and cheese, or with rare foods that were preserved in salt.
Alternatively, she could have been more susceptible to parasitic infections or genetic susceptibility to coronary disease.
Half of the mummies in the Horus study had calcification markers in their arteries that pointed to atherosclerosis. Most of these died at around 45 years on average.
"Our findings certainly call into question the perception of atherosclerosis as a modern disease," said Thomas.