Researchers at Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, are close to commercializing a new type of medical imaging technology that could diagnose cardiovascular disease by measuring ultrasound signals from molecules exposed to a fast-pulsing laser.

The system takes precise 3D images of plaques lining arteries and identifies deposits that are likely to rupture and cause heart attacks, they said.

The imaging technology reveals the presence of carbon-hydrogen bonds making up lipid molecules in arterial plaques, which can cause heart disease. They say that this allows them to see the chemical makeup of the blood vessel wall to determine which plaques are at risk of rupturing.

It has been very difficult to perform high-speed imaging in tissue until now. To get around the problem, the researchers developed a Raman laser using a laser that produces 2,000 pulses per second, each pulse capable of generating an image, representing a 100-fold increase in the imaging speed of the new technology, called intravascular photoacoustic imaging.

The imaging technique is "label free," meaning it does not require samples to be marked with dyes, which also makes it appealing for diagnostic applications.