The vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque is believed to be at the root of the majority of acute coronary events. Even though the exact origins of plaque vulnerability remain elusive, the thin-cap fibroatheroma, characterized by a lipid-rich necrotic core covered by a thin fibrous cap, is considered to be the most prominent type of vulnerable plaque. No clinically available imaging technique can characterize atherosclerotic lesions to the extent needed to determine plaque vulnerability prognostically. Intravascular photoacoustic imaging (IVPA) has the potential to take a significant step in that direction by imaging both plaque structure and composition. IVPA is a natural extension of intravascular ultrasound that adds tissue type specificity to the images. IVPA utilizes the optical contrast provided by the differences in the absorption spectra of plaque components to image composition. Its capability to image lipids in human coronary atherosclerosis has been shown extensively exvivo and has recently been translated to an invivo animal model. Other disease markers that have been successfully targeted are calcium and inflammatory markers, such as macrophages and matrix metalloproteinase; the latter two through application of exogenous contrast agents. By simultaneously displaying plaque morphology and composition, IVPA can provide a powerful prognostic marker for disease progression, and as such has the potential to transform the current practice in percutaneous coronary intervention.

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Ultrasound in Medicine & Biology
Department of Cardiology

Jansen, K, van Soest, G, & van der Steen, A.F.W. (2014). Intravascular photoacoustic imaging: A new tool for vulnerable plaque identification. Ultrasound in Medicine & Biology (Vol. 40, pp. 1037–1048). doi:10.1016/j.ultrasmedbio.2014.01.008