Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a new method of performing optical coherence tomography (OCT) of coronary vasculature that provides a ten fold increase in spatial resolution. Called microOCT, the method will soon provide physicians with the ability to look with micrometer resolution at individual cells that play roles in coronary diseases.
The researchers describe how using microOCT to study human and animal coronary artery tissue revealed detailed images of:
- endothelial cells that line coronary arteries,
- inflammatory cells that contribute to the formation of coronary plaques,
- smooth muscle cells that produce collagen in response to inflammation,
- fibrin proteins and platelets that are involved in the formation of clots
MicroOCT also produced detailed images of stents placed within coronary arteries, clearly distinguishing bare-metal stents from those covered with a drug-releasing polymer and revealing defects in the polymer coating.
“When we are able to implement microOCT in humans – probably in three to five years – the 10 times greater resolution will allow us to observe cells in the coronary arteries of living patients,” says Tearney, a professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School. “The ability to track and follow cells in three dimensions could help us prove or disprove many theories about coronary artery disease and better understand how clots form on a microscopic level. Improved definitions of high-risk plaques will lead to greater accuracy in identifying those that may go on to rupture and block the coronary artery, and the ability to monitor healing around implanted devices like stents could reduce the number of patients who must be on anticlotting medications, which are expensive and have side effects.”
Abstract in Nature Medicine: Imaging the subcellular structure of human coronary atherosclerosis using micro–optical coherence tomography