Comprehensive imaging of both the structural and biochemical characteristics of atherosclerotic plaque is essential for the diagnosis and study of coronary artery disease because both a plaque’s morphology and its biochemical composition affect the level of risk it poses. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) and fluorescence lifetime imaging (FLIm) are promising optical imaging methods for characterizing coronary artery plaques morphologically and biochemically, respectively. In this study, we present a hybrid intravascular imaging device, including a custom-built OCT/FLIm system, a hybrid optical rotary joint, and an imaging catheter, to visualize the structure and biochemical composition of the plaque in an atherosclerotic rabbit artery in vivo. Especially, the autofluorescence lifetime of the endogenous tissue molecules can be used to characterize the biochemical composition; thus no exogenous contrast agent is required. Also, the physical properties of the imaging catheter and the imaging procedures are similar to those already used clinically, facilitating rapid translation into clinical use. This new intravascular imaging catheter can open up new opportunities for clinicians and researchers to investigate and diagnose coronary artery disease by simultaneously providing tissue microstructure and biochemical composition data in vivo without the use of exogenous contrast agent.
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