Coronary artery disease, the main cause of heart disease, develops as immune cells and lipids accumulate into plaques within the coronary arterial wall. As a plaque grows, the tissue layer (fibrous cap) separating it from the blood flow becomes thinner and increasingly susceptible to rupturing and causing a potentially lethal thrombosis. The stabilization and/or treatment of atherosclerotic plaque is required to prevent rupturing and remains an unsolved medical problem. Here we show for the first time targeted, subsurface ablation of atherosclerotic plaque using ultrafast laser pulses. Excised atherosclerotic mouse aortas were ablated with ultrafast near-infrared (NIR) laser pulses. The physical damage was characterized with histological sections of the ablated atherosclerotic arteries from six different mice. The ultrafast ablation system was integrated with optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging for plaque-specific targeting and monitoring of the resulting ablation volume. We find that ultrafast ablation of plaque just below the surface is possible without causing damage to the fibrous cap, which indicates the potential use of ultrafast ablation for subsurface atherosclerotic plaque removal. We further demonstrate ex vivo subsurface ablation of a plaque volume through a catheter device with the high-energy ultrafast pulse delivered via hollow-core photonic crystal fiber.

© 2015 SPIE

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