Direct and continuous measurements of blood flow are of significant interest in many medical specialties. In cardiology, intravascular physiological measurements can be of critical importance to determine whether coronary stenting should be performed. Intravascular pressure is a physiological parameter that is frequently measured in clinical practice. An increasing body of evidence suggests that direct measurements of blood flow, as additional physiological parameters, could improve decision making. In this study, we developed a novel fibre optic intravascular flow sensor, which enabled time-of-flight measurements by upstream thermal tagging of blood. This flow sensor comprised a temperature sensitive polymer dome at the distal end of a single mode optical fibre. The dome was continuously interrogated by low coherence interferometry to measure thermally-induced length changes with nanometre-scale resolution. Flow measurements were performed by delivering heat upstream from the sensor with a separate optical fibre, and monitoring the temperature downstream at the dome with a sample rate of 50 Hz. A fabricated flow sensor was characterized and tested within a benchtop phantom, which comprised vessels with lumen diameters that ranged from 2.5 to 5 mm. Water was used as a blood mimicking fluid. For each vessel diameter, a pump provided constant volumetric flow at rates in the range of 5 to 200 ml/min. This range was chosen to represent flow rates encountered in healthy human vessels. Laser light pulses with a wavelength of 1470 nm and durations of 0.4 s were used to perform upstream thermal tagging. These pulses resulted in downstream temperature profiles that varied with the volumetric flow rate.
Vascular phantoms are crucial tools for clinical training and for calibration and validation of medical imaging systems. With current methods, it can be challenging to replicate anatomically-realistic vasculature. Here, we present a novel method that enables the fabrication of complex vascular phantoms. Poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVA) in two forms was used to create wall-less vessels and the surrounding tissue mimicking material (TMM). For the latter, PVA cryogel (PVA-c) was used as the TMM, which was made from a solution of PVA (10% by weight), distilled water, and glass spheres for ultrasonic scattering (0.5% by weight). PVA-c is not water soluble, and after a freeze-thaw cycle it is mechanically robust. To form the wall-less vessels, vessel structures were 3D printed in water-soluble PVA and submerged in the aqueous solution of PVA-c. Once the PVA-c had solidified, the 3D printed PVA vessel structures were dissolved in water. Three phantoms were created, as initial demonstrations of the capabilities of this method: a straight vessel, a stenosed (narrowed), and a bifurcated (branched) vessel. Ultrasound images of the phantoms had realistic appearances. We conclude that this method is promising for creating wall-less, anatomically realistic, vascular phantoms.