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Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2018

Author's School

School of Engineering & Applied Science

Author's Department

Biomedical Engineering

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Ultrasonically probing optical absorption, photoacoustic tomography (PAT) combines rich optical contrast with high ultrasonic resolution at depths beyond the optical diffusion limit. With consistent optical absorption contrast at different scales and highly scalable spatial resolution and penetration depth, PAT holds great promise as an important tool for both fundamental research and clinical application. Despite tremendous progress, PAT still encounters certain limitations that prevent it from becoming readily adopted in the clinical settings. This dissertation aims to advance both the technical development and application of PAT towards its clinical translation.

The first part of this dissertation describes the development of photoacoustic elastography techniques, which complement PAT with the capability to image the elastic properties of biological tissue and detect pathological conditions associated with its alterations. First, I demonstrated vascular-elastic PAT (VE-PAT), capable of quantifying blood vessel compliance changes due to thrombosis and occlusions. Then, I developed photoacoustic elastography to noninvasively map the elasticity distribution in biological tissue. Third, I further enhanced its performance by combing conventional photoacoustic elastography with a stress sensor having known stress–strain behavior to achieve quantitative photoacoustic elastography (QPAE). QPAE can quantify the Young’s modulus of biological tissues on an absolute scale.

The second part of this dissertation introduces technical improvements of photoacoustic microscopy (PAM). First, by employing near-infrared (NIR) light for illumination, a greater imaging depth and finer lateral resolution were achieved by near-infrared optical-resolution PAM (NIR-OR-PAM). In addition, NIR-OR-PAM was capable of imaging other tissue components, including lipid and melanin. Second, I upgraded a high-speed functional OR-PAM (HF-OR-PAM) system and applied it to image neurovascular coupling during epileptic seizure propagation in mouse brains in vivo with high spatio-temporal resolution. Last, I developed a single-cell metabolic PAM (SCM-PAM) system, which improves the current single-cell oxygen consumption rate (OCR) measurement throughput from ~30 cells over 15 minutes to ~3000 cells over 15 minutes. This throughput enhancement of two orders of magnitude achieves modeling of single-cell OCR distribution with a statistically meaningful cell count. SCM-PAM enables imaging of intratumoral metabolic heterogeneity with single-cell resolution.

The third part of this dissertation introduces the application of linear-array-based PAT (LA-PAT) in label-free high-throughput imaging of melanoma circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in patients in vivo. Taking advantage of the strong optical absorption of melanin and the unique capability of PAT to image optical absorption, with 100% relative sensitivity, at depths with high ultrasonic spatial resolution, LA-PAT is inherently suitable for melanoma CTC imaging. First, with a center ultrasonic frequency of 21 MHz, the LA-PAT system was able to detect melanoma CTCs clusters and quantify their sizes based on the contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR). Second, I developed an LA-PAT system with a center ultrasonic frequency of 40 MHz and imaged melanoma CTCs in patients in vivo with a CNR greater than 12. We successfully imaged 16 melanoma patients and detected melanoma CTCs in 3 of them. Among the CTC-positive patients, 67% had disease progression despite systemic therapy. In contrast, only 23% of the CTC-negative patients showed disease progression. This study lays a solid foundation for translating CTC detection to bedside for clinical care and decision-making.


English (en)


Lihong V. Wang, Mark Anastasio

Committee Members

Philip V. Bayly, Jin-Moo Lee, James G. Miller,


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Available for download on Saturday, April 13, 2019