Lahey Clinic's Heart And Vascular Center, Burlington, Mass.

"The idea behind spectroscopy is that different substances reflect and absorb light differently," explains Sergio Waxman, MD, director of interventional cardiology research at Lahey. "These patterns provide information about the chemical composition of matter. For instance, the probes that are sent to Mars to examine the composition of rocks use spectroscopy." Along with five other centers in the U.S. and Canada, Lahey Clinic recently completed the first study in the world to look at the ability of this technology to detect fatty plaques in patients who were scheduled for an angioplasty procedure.

Lahey physicians are also using a technology called angioscopy to distinguish the properties of different plaques. Angioscopy allows physicians to use a camera and put a tiny lens inside an artery to look at and measure the color of different plaques as a means of detecting their potential risk. "Lahey is currently one of few places working on this type of computerized color analysis," says Waxman. "We can quantify the color of a plaque that hopefully can identify which plaques are likely to be more dangerous than others."

Finally, in conjunction with Massachusetts General Hospital, Lahey researchers are exploring optical frequency domain imaging, or OFDI. By using a specialized catheter, physicians can obtain detailed information about the inside of an artery with a level of resolution similar to that of a microscope. The first few cases have been performed at Lahey as part of an ongoing multi-center study.

"Eventually, we'd like to use any of these technologies to screen patients at the time of an angiogram or angioplasty," says Waxman. "By identifying the composition of certain plaques, we could learn whether more aggressive and targeted treatments -- with medication or with stents -- would prevent heart attacks."

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