Rewriting Life

Optical Biopsy

A new imaging technique can spot potential clots in arteries.

Current heart-imaging techniques can identify arterial plaques, but they can’t distinguish stable plaques from unstable ones likely to break off and cause clots.

A relatively new laser imaging technology called optical-coherence tomography, on the other hand, can.

[For an image from this new imaging technology, click here.]

This story is part of our March/April 2006 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

An early version of the technology, developed by James Fujimoto’s research group at MIT, is already used in several countries to diagnose eye disease. A laser beam is split in two; one beam is reflected off eye tissue. The reflection and the other beam are combined to create interference patterns that can be converted into an eye image. But in an artery, the technology can image only about three centimeters in 30 seconds, since that’s the maximum time that blood flow can be safely blocked.

MIT postdoc Robert Huber and Fujimoto describe using a laser whose light frequency can be tuned extremely rapidly to enhance imaging speed. To allow faster tuning, the researchers built a laser with a coil of optical fiber several kilometers long.

The round-trip time of the light in the coil precisely matches the time between frequency adjustments, so the beams provide a ready supply of photons for each adjustment, eliminating the delays normally required to build up enough photons at a new frequency.

The technology can scan three centimeters of artery in just 2.5 seconds – at a high enough resolution to diagnose plaques and distinguish cancerous cells from normal ones.

LightLabs Imaging, an MIT spinoff, is working on a prototype and hopes to be ready for clinical trials before 2008.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Premium.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

You've read of free articles this month.