Intravascular photoacoustic tomography is an emerging technology for mapping lipid deposition within an arterial wall for the investigation of the vulnerability of atherosclerotic plaques to rupture. By converting localized laser absorption in lipid-rich biological tissue into ultrasonic waves through thermoelastic expansion, intravascular photoacoustic tomography is uniquely capable of imaging the entire arterial wall with chemical selectivity and depth resolution. However, technical challenges, including an imaging catheter with sufficient sensitivity and depth and a functional sheath material without significant signal attenuation and artifact generation for both photoacoustics and ultrasound, have prevented in vivo application of intravascular photoacoustic imaging for clinical translation. Here, we present a highly sensitive quasi-collinear dual-mode photoacoustic/ultrasound catheter with elaborately selected sheath material, and demonstrated the performance of our intravascular photoacoustic tomography system by in vivo imaging of lipid distribution in rabbit aortas under clinically relevant conditions at imaging speeds up to 16 frames per second. Ex vivo evaluation of fresh human coronary arteries further confirmed the performance of our imaging system for accurate lipid localization and quantification of the entire arterial wall, indicating its clinical significance and translational capability.
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