Intravascular photoacoustics as a theranostic platform for atherosclerosis



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The persistence of high global mortality rates directly attributable to cardiovascular disease drives ongoing research into novel approaches for improved diagnosis and treatment of its primary underlying cause, atherosclerosis. Combined intravascular ultrasound and photoacoustic (IVUS/IVPA) imaging is one such modality, actively being developed as a tool for improved characterization of high-risk atherosclerotic plaques. The pathophysiology associated with progression and destabilization of atherosclerotic plaques leads to characteristic changes in arterial morphology and composition. IVUS/IVPA imaging seeks to expand upon the ability of clinically utilized intravascular ultrasound (IVUS) imaging to assess vessel anatomy by adding improved sensitivity to image the underlying cellular and molecular composition through intravascular photoacoustic (IVPA) imaging of either endogenous chromophores (e.g. lipid) or exogenously delivered contrast agents. This dissertation focuses on the expansion of IVUS/IVPA imaging using exogenous contrast agents to enable the detection and subsequent optically-triggered therapy of atherosclerotic plaques. The passive extravasation and aggregation of systemically injected plasmonic gold nanorods absorbing within the near infrared tissue optical window within plaques of atherosclerotic rabbit models is first demonstrated, along with the ability to localize the contrast agents using ex vivo IVUS/IVPA imaging. The motivation for nanoparticle labeling of atherosclerosis is then expanded from that of purely image contrast agents to vehicles for image-guided, dual-modality phototherapy. The integrated IVUS/IVPA imaging catheter is utilized for photothermal delivery with simultaneous IVPA temperature monitoring using the high optical absorption of gold nanorod contrast agents to enable localized heating. Subsequently, the potential role for IVUS/IVPA-guided phototherapy is further expanded through the characterization and in vitro assessment of novel multifunctional theranostic nanoparticles comprised of a gold nanorod core with a degradable, photosensitizer-doped silica shell. Together, the results presented within this dissertation provide a framework for ongoing research into the expansion of IVUS/IVPA imaging as a platform for complimentary diagnosis and local treatment of atherosclerotic plaques using multifunctional theranostic nanoparticle contrast agents.