Ultrasound technology has been capable of detecting plaque build up inside arteries for a long time. The techniques though haven’t been as effective as needed when the plaque is vulnerable (meaning it can detach from the artery wall and clog a passage later on) and a heart attack is near. The detection of this heart attack is vital to a person’s health and may very well be the crucial factor in saving their lives. A research team at the University of North Carolina have undertaken the task of inventing a device that detects plaque vulnerability using ultrasound.
There are two techniques that we know of that detect plaque build up in the arteries through ultra sound and they both rely on micro-bubbles, bubbles smaller than one millimeter in diameter. These act as contrast agents, differentiating between areas that are and aren’t vulnerable. The first technique is called “vasa vasorum”, its the Latin term for a cluster of blood vessels. The technique follows the micro bubbles through the cluster of arteries and establishes whether they are trapped within plaque or not. If they are, the plaque is vulnerable.
The second technique is called molecular imaging which follows individual bubbles that attach themselves to molecules more likely to be found inside plaques.
Both these techniques are not very good at detecting the micro bubbles so the team at North Carolina University invented what they call a “dual-frequency intra-vascular ultrasound transducer“. Thats quite a mouthful. It operates on two frequencies and hence makes it easier to detect the contrast agents.
The device will hopefully start clinical trials soon.