Breakthrough in early detection of arterial stiffness


A single prototype developed in Flanders may change the way cardiovascular disease is diagnosed and save hundreds of thousands of lives

Study to extend across Europe

Three Flemish institutions have successfully completed the study of a prototype device that measures arterial stiffness, or the hardness of blood vessels. The device has the potential to save countless lives as heart and vascular diseases can be diagnosed more precisely and at an earlier stage.

Arterial stiffness is one of the first signs of vascular diseases, or diseases of the blood vessels, which include both arteries and veins. While early treatment of heart and vascular diseases depends on early detection of arterial stiffness, tests remain difficult and imprecise.

Currently, blood pressure associated with the heartbeat is measured in two parts of the body. The speed of the waves of blood through the vessels determine if the vessels are hardened. This kind of test requires a great deal of expertise and provides only a rough indication.

Laser technology

The Flemish groups – medical technology firm Medtronic Belgium, nanotech centre imec and Ghent University’s Photonics Research Group – have developed a device (pictured above) that is easier to use and provides precise measurements. Developed as part of the European Cardis project, the device uses silicon photonics, combining the flexibility of the chemical element with the possibilities provided by nanophotonics, or microscopic lasers.

The device uses Laser Doppler Vibrometry, with a laser able to measure changes in the movement and colour of the skin directly above a blood vessel. It is so precise that it can determine whether a blood vessel is hardened with much more accuracy that the current method.

“Silicon photonics is already being used extensively in data centres and communication networks,” said Roel Baets of imec, “but is now also proving promising for medical applications. As this technology can improve the lives of many people with cardiovascular disease, we continue to be inspired to develop new medical applications.”

The Cardis device posed no problems for the patients and was easy for medical professionals to use

- Dr Pierre Boutouyrie

The device was test on 100 patients at the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris, another partner in the Cardis project. “The Cardis device posed no problems for the patients and was easy for medical professionals to use,” said Dr Pierre Boutouyrie. “Measurement were successfully determined in every single patient.”

The device is also much faster than previous tests, with results available in 10 minutes. “And the patients hardly noticed we were performing the test,” said Boutouyrie.

The next step is to develop several dozen devices and carry out a larger case study across Europe. Should the results be as successful, the device can be manufactured for the marketplace.


Leuven-based imec is a world-leading nanotechnology and nanoelectronics research centre. Its main research areas are ICT, health care and energy.
Origins - Imec was established as an independent but Flemish government-backed research centre for microelectronics in 1984.
International - While its headquarters are in Leuven, imec has offices in the US, the Netherlands, Taiwan, China, India and Japan.
Clean room - Imec boasts two cleanrooms – dust-free labs to develop computer chips – and is developing a third.

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