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Lasers Surg Med. 2013 Aug;45(6):391-400. doi: 10.1002/lsm.22147. Epub 2013 Jun 5.

Imaging and characterization of bioengineered blood vessels within a bioreactor using free-space and catheter-based OCT.

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School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, USA.



Regenerative medicine involves the bioengineering of a functional tissue or organ by seeding living cells on a biodegradable scaffold cultured in a bioreactor. A major barrier to creating functional tissues, however, has been the inability to monitor the dynamic and complex process of scaffold maturation in real time, making control and optimization extremely difficult. Current methods to assess maturation of bioengineered constructs, such as histology or organ bath physiology, are sample-destructive. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) has recently emerged as a key modality for structural assessment of native blood vessels as well as engineered vessel mimics. The objective of this study was to monitor and assess in real time the development of a bioengineered blood vessel using a novel approach of combining both free-space and catheter-based OCT imaging in a new quartz-walled bioreactor. Development of the blood vessel was characterized by changes in thickness and scattering coefficient over a 30-day period.


We constructed a novel blood vessel bioreactor utilizing a rotating cylindrical quartz cuvette permitting free-space OCT imaging of an installed vessel's outer surface. A vascular endoscopic OCT catheter was used to image the lumen of the vessels. The quartz cuvette permits 360 degree, free-space OCT imaging of the blood vessel. Bioengineered blood vessels were fabricated using biodegradable polymers (15% PCL/collagen, ∼300 µm thick) and seeded with CH3 10t1/2 mesenchymal stem cells. A swept-source OCT imaging system comprised of a 20 kHz tunable laser (Santec HSL2000) with 1,300 nm central wavelength and 110 nm FWHM bandwidth was used to assess the vessels. OCT images were obtained at days 1, 4, 7, 14, 21, and 30. Free-space (exterior surface) OCT images were co-registered with endoscopic OCT images to determine the vessel wall thickness. DAPI-stained histological sections, acquired at same time point, were evaluated to quantify wall thickness and cellular infiltration. Non-linear curve fitting of free-space OCT data to the extended Huygen-Fresnel model was performed to determine optical scattering properties.


Vessel wall thickness increased from 435 ± 15 µm to 610 ± 27 µm and Vessel scattering coefficient increased from 3.73 ± 0.32 cm⁻¹ to 5.74 ± 0.06 cm⁻¹ over 30 days. Histological studies showed cell migration from the scaffold surface toward the lumen and cell proliferation over the same time course. The imaging procedure did not have any significant impact on scaffold dimensions, cell migration, or cell proliferation.


This study suggests that combination of free-space and catheter-based OCT for blood vessel imaging provides accurate structural information of the developing blood vessel. We determined that free-space OCT images could be co-registered with catheter-based OCT images to monitor structural features such as wall thickness or delamination of the developing tissue-engineered blood vessel within a bioreactor. Structural parameters and optical properties obtained from OCT imaging correlate with histological sections of the blood vessel and could potentially be used as markers to non-invasively and non-destructively assess regeneration of engineered tissues in real time.


optical coherence tomography; optical properties; regenerative medicine; swept source; vascular graft

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