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Photoacoustic Imaging Technique Detects Arterial Plaques

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Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) used light-activated nanoparticles and photoimaging to locate and image cells found in the arteries, cells that could lead to heart attacks and strokes.

MSU professor Bryan Smith and his team worked with researchers from Emory and Stanford universities to develop nanoparticles made from carbon (i.e., carbon nanotubes) that selectively target the types of immune cells that are abundant in inflammatory plaques. Though it is difficult to prove whether a particular plaque is responsible for a stroke or heart attack, the prevailing belief is that vulnerable plaques are the most dangerous, Smith said. These are inflammatory plaques that can rupture and consequently block blood vessels.
A new imaging technique uses nanoparticles to help reveal vulnerable plaques in arteries that can lead to strokes and heart attacks. Immune cells in the plaque attract the nanoparticles, which can then emit a signal that’s seen in red in the image on the right, taken from a mouse artery. That signal is absent — meaning a plaque goes undetected — in the artery shown on the left, which shows a mouse that did not receive the nanoparticles. Courtesy of Advanced Functional Materials.
A new imaging technique uses nanoparticles to help reveal vulnerable plaques in arteries that can lead to strokes and heart attacks. Immune cells in the plaque attract the nanoparticles, which can then emit a signal that’s seen in red in the image on the right, taken from a mouse artery. That signal is absent — meaning a plaque goes undetected — in the artery on the left, which shows a mouse that did not receive the nanoparticles. Courtesy of Advanced Functional Materials.

The researchers injected the light-sensitive nanoparticles into a mouse model that mimicked human inflammatory plaques histopathologically. When the researchers shined laser light into the arteries of the model, the nanoparticles absorbed the light and emitted sound waves when plaque was present. The researchers used this acoustic signal to locate and visualize the plaque.


“The power of our new technique is in its selectivity,” Smith said. “There are certainly other methods to image plaques, but what distinguishes this strategy is that it’s cellular. We’re specifically looking at the cells — called macrophages and monocytes — that are most responsible for making a plaque vulnerable in the first place.”

Single-cell flow cytometry performed within the plaques revealed that the nanoparticles were almost exclusively absorbed by the inflamed immune cells that infiltrate plaques.

“If you look at a normal blood vessel versus one with a plaque, there’re a lot more macrophages and monocytes in the one with the plaque,” Smith said. “And our method is really looking at the monocytes and macrophages. Virtually no other cell type takes up the nanoparticles.”

Using photoacoustic imaging, the researchers identified inflamed atherosclerotic plaques that displayed an approximately sixfold greater signal compared to the controls — six hours after the mice were injected with the carbon nanotubes.

This approach could offer a targeted, noninvasive way to accurately identify and diagnose inflamed atherosclerotic lesions.

“Currently, there is no effective way to accurately locate and treat vulnerable plaques before they lead to a heart attack or stroke,” Emory University professor Eliver Ghosn said. “We hope our studies will help change that.”

From a treatment standpoint, Smith’s lab also showed that the nanoparticles can be loaded with a drug for fighting plaques. The team will also explore how to use the nanoparticles to aid with imaging as well as delivering a therapeutic.

The research was published in Advanced Functional Materials (www.doi.org/10.1002/adfm.202101005).

Published: August 2021
Glossary
flow cytometry
Flow cytometry is a powerful technique used in biology and medicine for the quantitative analysis of the physical and chemical characteristics of cells and particles suspended in a fluid. The method allows for the rapid measurement of multiple parameters simultaneously on a cell-by-cell basis. It is widely used in various fields, including immunology, microbiology, hematology, and cancer research. Here are the key components and features of flow cytometry: Sample preparation: Cells or...
photoacoustic imaging
Abbreviated PAI. An imaging modality with a hybrid technique based on the acoustic detection of optical absorption from endogenous chromophores or exogenous contrast agents. Light is absorbed by the chromophores and converted into transient heating, and through thermoelastic expansion there is a resulting emission of ultrasonic waves. In tissue, ultrasound scatters less than light, therefore PAI generates high-resolution images in the diffusive and optical ballistic regimes compared to purely...
photoacoustic effect
Generation of an acoustical signal by a sample exposed to modulated light.
nano
An SI prefix meaning one billionth (10-9). Nano can also be used to indicate the study of atoms, molecules and other structures and particles on the nanometer scale. Nano-optics (also referred to as nanophotonics), for example, is the study of how light and light-matter interactions behave on the nanometer scale. See nanophotonics.
Research & Technologyeducation. AmericasMichigan State Universityflow cytometryImagingLight SourcesMaterialsOpticsphotoacoustic imagingOptoacoustic imagingmyocardial infarctionstrokeBiophotonicsphotoacoustic effectmedicalnanoBioScan

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