Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2018

Author's Department

Biomedical Engineering

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Photoacoustic (PA) tomography (PAT) has received extensive attention in the last decade for its capability to provide label-free structural and functional imaging in biological tissue with highly scalable spatial resolution and penetration depth. Compared to modern optical modalities, PAT offers speckle-free images and is more sensitive to optical absorption contrast (with 100% relative sensitivity). By implementing different regimes of optical wavelength, PAT can be used to image diverse light-absorbing biomolecules. For example, hemoglobin is of particular interest in the visible wavelength regime owing to its dominant absorption, and lipids and water are more commonly studied in the near-infrared regime.

In this dissertation, one challenge was to quantitatively investigate red-blood-cell dynamics in nailfold capillaries with single-cell resolution PA microscopy (PAM). We recruited healthy volunteers and measured multiple hemodynamic parameters based on individual red blood cells (RBCs). Statistical analysis revealed the process of oxygen release and changes in flow speed for RBCs in a capillary. For the first time on record, oxygen release from individual RBCs in human capillaries was imaged with nearly real-time speed, and the work paved the way for our following study of a specific blood disorder.

We next conducted a pilot study on sickle cell disease (SCD), measuring and comparing the parameters related to RBC dynamics between healthy subjects and patients with SCD. In the patient group, we found that capillaries tended to be more tortuous, dilated, and had higher number density. In addition, abnormal RBCs tended to have lower oxygenation in the inlet of a capillary, from where they flowed slower and released a larger fraction of oxygen than normal RBCs. As the only imaging modality able to observe the real-time dynamics of the oxygen release of individual RBCs, PAM provides medically valuable information for diagnostic purposes.

As the last focus of this dissertation, we tackled the limited view problem in PAM by introducing an off-axis illumination technique for complementing the original detection view. We demonstrated this technique numerically and then experimentally on phantoms and animals. This simple but very effective method revealed abundant vertical vasculature in a mouse brain that had long been missed by conventional top-illumination PAM. This technique greatly advances future studies on neurovascular responses in mouse brains.


English (en)


Lihong V. Wang

Committee Members

Mark A. Anastasio, Lihong V. Wang, Jin-Moo Lee, Lan Yang,


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