A team of researchers from the University of Washington and University of Michigan have found a way to use a medical camera to view the carotid artery and spot cardiovascular risks.

A new paper from UW and University of Michigan researchers in Nature Biomedical Engineering reports proof-of-concept results for this new imaging platform for atherosclerosis based on a medical camera developed by a University of Washington mechanical engineer.

“The camera actually goes inside the vessels,” said first author Luis Savastano, a Michigan Medicine resident neurosurgeon. “We can see with very high resolution the surface of the vessels and any lesions, such as a ruptured plaque, that could cause a stroke. This technology could possibly find the ‘smoking gun’ lesion in patients with strokes of unknown cause, and may even be able to show which silent, but at-risk, plaques may cause a cardiovascular event in the future.”

The scanning fibre endoscope, or SFE, used in the study was invented and developed by co-author and UW mechanical engineering research professor Eric Seibel. He originally designed it for early cancer detection to clearly image cancer cells that are currently invisible with clinical endoscopes.

The Michigan Medicine team, meanwhile, used the instrument to acquire high-quality images of possible stroke-causing regions of the carotid artery that may not be detected with conventional radiological techniques.

UM endoscope (cr) Figure 1: Scanning fibre angioscopic images with red reflectance for structural images (left) and blue fluorescence for label-free biochemical contrast (right). Images demonstrate multiple atherosclerotic lesions with very low fluorescence in the blue spectrum in comparison to the surrounding healthy artery. (Source: University of Michigan)

Researchers generated images of human arteries using the SFE, which illuminates tissues with multiple laser beams and digitally reconstructs high-definition images to determine the severity of atherosclerosis and other qualities of the vessel wall.

“In addition to discovering the cause of the stroke, the endoscope can also assist neurosurgeons with therapeutic interventions by guiding stent placement, releasing drugs and biomaterials and helping with surgeries,” said Seibel.

In addition, the SFE uses fluorescence indicators to show key biological features associated with increased risk of stroke and heart attacks in the future. The research is still in the pre-clinical phase, according to the group.

The research was funded by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and Congress of Neurological Surgeons, and National Institutes of Health.