Lesion detection

A chemical imaging technique that could help in the treatment of atherosclerosis has been developed by a team at Imperial College London.

Atherosclerosis is a condition caused by the build up of fatty material, such as cholesterol, which results in the thickening of artery walls. It is characterised by lesions in the arteries made of fats, collagen and cells, which can cause heart attacks and strokes if they rupture.

The Attenuated Total Reflection Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopic Imaging (ATR-FTIR imaging) technique has been developed as part of an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded project to understand the chemical composition of these lesions.

The system works by using infrared light to identify different chemical molecules, which are mapped by an array detector to create a ‘chemical photograph’. Researchers at Imperial College have used the technique to study the effects of age and L-arginine on the composition of lesions in cholesterol-fed rabbits and are hoping it will aid doctors by providing real-time images of lesions in human arteries.

Currently, ultrasound is used to assess the size and location of lesions and biopsies are taken to determine its chemistry. ATR-FTIR imaging claims to eliminate the need for a biopsy, which can often prove complicated and invasive, by determining the size and location as well as levels of elastin, collagen and cholesteryl ester in one procedure.

Lead author, Prof Sergei Kazarian, said: ‘Atherosclerosis can be a dangerous condition and our hope is that with further work, our approaches could ultimately be used to determine which patients are most at risk of complications. That way, doctors can target treatments at those patients who most need it, in order to prevent strokes and heart attacks.’