New tool may track thickening of artery wall

London: Scientists have developed a new chemical imaging technique which could one day help in the fight against atherosclerosis, the condition in which an artery wall thickens as a result of a build-up of fatty materials such as cholesterol. If the artery wall thickens, it can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

The Imperial College of London team behind the new imaging technique, Attenuated Total Reflection Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopic Imaging (ATR-FTIR imaging), believe that with further refinement, it could become a useful tool for doctors wanting to assess a patient`s lesions -- any abnormality of tissue in the body.

For example, by combining fibre optic technology with ATR-FTIR imaging, researchers believe doctors could carry out real-time inspections of patients with atherosclerosis, and assess the progress of a disease and the likely risks.

Currently, doctors use ultrasound to assess the size and location of lesions but they need to take biopsies of lesions in order to determine their chemistry. This is a complex and invasive procedure.

The researchers say the ATR-FTIR imaging could potentially improve current imaging techniques because it could combine imaging and chemical analysis, which would provide a comprehensive and accurate picture of a patient`s lesions in one procedure.

In the present study, the researchers demonstrated that ATR-FTIR imaging was able to reveal the precise composition and size of the lesions and the levels of elastin and collagen in them.

These findings were published in the August edition of the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.