Combined Approach Developed to Map Atherosclerosis Arteries

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A new technique enables calcified and constricted blood vessels to be visualized with micrometer accuracy, and can be utilized to create containers for targeted drug delivery. Within the project "NO-stress," materials researchers from the Medical Faculty of the University of Basel merged state of the art imaging techniques to visualize and measure the constrictions caused by atherosclerosis.

Cardiovascular diseases, including atherosclerosis, are linked with plaque formation and the most common cause of death around the world. Yet, unlike vessels and other soft tissues, the plaque formed offer a strong contrast in X-rays, as known from bone. Thus far, it has been arduous or even impracticable to distinguish soft tissues in the direct vicinity of calcifications using X-rays.

A team of researchers from laboratories in three European countries, led by Bert Müller (Biomaterials Science Center at University of Basel), have designed and developed a procedure that is predicated on the mixture of hard X-ray tomography and proven histology methods, to visualize the vessels constricted by atherosclerosis. The data regarding the morphology of the constricted vessels is utilized to reproduce blood flow and discover related shear stresses. The shear stress is considerably enhanced at the constrictions and makes up the basis for the development of specialized nano-containers for the targeted and local delivery of vasodilation drugs.mapping atherosclerotic

The new technique molds and merges known approaches and is not only appropriate for the three-dimensional characterization of atherosclerotic blood vessels but also for any other combination of strongly and weakly X-ray absorbing species including cartilage and bone.

It makes good use of standard X-ray absorption and, additionally, of X-ray phase contrast measurements, which are for instance available through grating interferometry. As the phase contrast is much less reliant on the atomic number of the constituents than the absorption contrast, the soft tissues in the neighborhood of hard tissues become much more easily and effectively visualized.

In short, the authors showcase that strongly calcified arteries are methodically characterized by the combination of the non-destructive tomography measurements in X-ray absorption and phase contrast modes, and proven histology techniques. The project "NO-stress" is funded within the National Research Programme NRP 62 "Smart Materials" by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

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