Background: Standard clinical imaging of the acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) lung lacks resolution and offers limited possibilities in the exploration of the structure−function relationship, and therefore cannot provide an early and clear discrimination of patients with unexpected diagnosis and unrepair profile. The current gold standard is open lung biopsy (OLB). However, despite being able to reveal precise information about the tissue collected, OLB cannot provide real-time information on treatment response and is accompanied with a complication risk rate up to 25%, making longitudinal monitoring a dangerous endeavor. Intravital probe-based confocal laser endomicroscopy (pCLE) is a developing and innovative high-resolution imaging technology. pCLE offers the possibility to leverage multiple and specific imaging probes to enable multiplex screening of several proteases and pathogenic microorganisms, simultaneously and longitudinally, in the lung. This bedside method will ultimately enable physicians to rapidly, noninvasively, and accurately diagnose degrading lung and/or fibrosis without the need of OLBs. Objectives and Methods: To extend the information provided by standard imaging of the ARDS lung with a bedside, high-resolution, miniaturized pCLE through the detailed molecular imaging of a carefully selected region-of-interest (ROI). To validate and quantify real-time imaging to validate pCLE against OLB. Results: Developments in lung pCLE using fluorescent affinity- or activity-based probes at both preclinical and clinical (first-in-man) stages are ongoing—the results are promising, revealing correlations with OLBs in problematic ARDS. Conclusion: It can be envisaged that safe, high-resolution, noninvasive pCLE with activatable fluorescence probes will provide a “virtual optical biopsy” and will provide decisive information in selected ARDS patients at the bedside.
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