Background: In lymphatic reconstructive surgery, visualization of lymph vessels is of paramount importance. Indocyanine green (ICG) lymphography is the current gold standard in preoperative lymphatic imaging. However, visualization of lymph vessels is often limited by an overlying dermal backflow of ICG, becoming particularly prominent in advanced lymphedema stages. Multispectral optoacoustic tomography (MSOT) has recently been introduced as a promising noninvasive tool for lymphatic imaging.
Methods and Results: A single-center proof-of-concept study with a prospective observational design was conducted at the Department of Plastic Surgery and Hand Surgery of the University Hospital Zurich. Between February 2021 and August 2021, seven patients with different grades of lymphedema were analyzed by the MSOT Acuity system before undergoing lymphovenous anastomosis (LVA). Conventional ICG lymphography served as comparison. MSOT succeeded to accurately depict blood and lymphatic vessels at different locations in six patients, including areas of dermal backflow. The MSOT signal of lymph vessels further correlated well with their macroscopic appearance.
Conclusion: We could successfully visualize lymphatic vessels in patients with lymphedema by MSOT and establish the new method for preoperative mapping and selection of incision sites for LVA. Regardless of dermal backflow patterns, MSOT proved to be a valuable approach for identifying and clearly discerning between lymphatic and blood vessels.