Importance: Differential diagnosis of congenital vascular anomalies is challenging, and misdiagnosis is frequent. Vascular malformations are considered one of the most difficult vascular diseases to treat. A new imaging approach that visualizes anatomical features and quantitatively assesses molecular biomarkers noninvasively would aid diagnosis and monitoring of treatment response of vascular malformations.

Objective: To evaluate multispectral optoacoustic tomography (MSOT) for noninvasive assessment of molecular biomarkers for diagnosis and therapeutic monitoring of vascular malformations.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This pilot study examined 6 patients with arteriovenous malformation (AVM) and 6 patients with venous malformation (VM) diagnosed according to the classification system of the International Society for the Study of Vascular Anomalies. All patients underwent clinical hybrid MSOT/ultrasonographic (US) imaging before and after treatment at an interdisciplinary vascular malformations clinic by trained MSOT and US examiners. Examiners were blinded to the patient history and stage of disease. Data were collected from April 11 to 25, 2017, and analyzed from May 1 to October 31, 2017.

Interventions: Clinical hybrid MSOT/US imaging was performed before or within 1 week after endovascular embolization (for AVM) or percutaneous sclerotherapy (for VM).

Main Outcomes and Measures: Region-of-interest analysis of the lesion and contralateral healthy tissue revealed quantitative values for oxygenated (HbO2) and deoxygenated (HbR) hemoglobin by spectral unmixing of optoacoustic data acquired at multiple wavelengths. The HbO2:HbR ratio was calculated for healthy tissue and for AVM and VM before and after treatment.

Results: Twelve patients (9 female and 3 male; mean [SD] age, 23 [18] years; age range, 6-59 years) with vascular malformations (6 with AVMs and 6 with VMs) were included. Significantly higher HbO2:HbR ratios for AVMs (mean [SEM], 1.82 [0.08] vs 0.89 [0.03]; P < .001) and for VMs (mean [SEM], 1.12 [0.04] vs 0.89 [0.03]; P = .001) were found on MSOT tissue compared with healthy tissue. Significantly higher HbO2:HbR ratios for AVMs compared with VMs (mean [SEM], 1.82 [0.08] vs 1.12 [0.04]; P < .001) were also found. Therefore, MSOT provided intrinsic biomarker patterns to distinguish both vascular malformations. After therapy, the HbO2:HbR ratio dropped in correlation to treatment success validated by magnetic resonance imaging or angiography. Conclusions and Relevance: This study suggests that different types of vascular malformations are clearly distinguished by MSOT-based, noninvasive assessment of hemoglobin levels in vascular malformations. The therapy effects found in this study could be instantly visualized, and this may offer a new tool for noninvasive diagnosis and monitoring of vascular malformations.