Author's School

School of Engineering & Applied Science

Author's Department/Program

Biomedical Engineering


English (en)

Date of Award

Spring 3-26-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Lihong V Wang


Photoacoustic imaging in biomedicine has the unique advantage of probing endogenous light absorbers at various length scales with a 100% relative sensitivity. Among the several modalities of photoacoustic imaging, optical-resolution photoacoustic microscopy (OR-PAM) can achieve high spatial resolution, on the order of optical wavelength, at <1 mm depth in biological tissue (the optical ballistic regime). OR-PAM has been applied successfully to structural and functional imaging of blood vasculature and red blood cells in vivo. Any molecules which absorb sufficient light at certain wavelengths can potentially be imaged by PAM. Compared with pure optical imaging, which typically targets fluorescent markers, label-free PAM avoids the major concerns that the fluorescent labeling probes may disturb the function of biomolecules and may have an insufficient density. This dissertation aims to advance label-free OR-PAM to the subcellular scale.

The first part of this dissertation describes the technological advancement of PAM yielding high spatial resolution in 3D. The lateral resolution was improved by using optical objectives with high numerical apertures for optical focusing. The axial resolution was improved by using broadband ultrasonic transducers for ultrasound detection. We achieved 220 nm lateral resolution in transmission mode, 0.43 µm lateral resolution in reflection mode, 7.6 µm axial resolution in normal tissue, and 5.8 µm axial resolution with silicone oil immersion/injection. The achieved lateral resolution and axial resolution were the finest reported at the time. With high-resolution in 3D, PAM was demonstrated to resolve cellular and subcellular structures in vivo, such as red blood cells and melanosomes in melanoma cells. Compared with previous PAM systems, our high-resolution PAM could resolve capillaries in mouse ears more clearly. As an example application, we demonstrated intracellular temperature imaging, assisted by fluorescence signal detection, with sub-degree temperature resolution and sub-micron lateral resolution.

The second part of this dissertation describes the exploration of endogenous light-absorbing biomolecules for PAM. We demonstrated cytochromes and myoglobin as new absorption contrasts for PAM and identified the corresponding optimal wavelengths for imaging. Fixed fibroblasts on slides and mouse ear sections were imaged by PAM at 422 nm and 250 nm wavelengths to reveal cytoplasms and nuclei, respectively, as confirmed by standard hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) histology. By imaging a blood-perfused mouse heart at 532 nm down to 150 µm in depth, we derived the myocardial sheet thickness and the cleavage height from an undehydrated heart for the first time. The findings promote PAM at new wavelengths and open up new possibilities for characterizing biological tissue. Of particular interest, dual-wavelength PAM around 250 nm and 420 nm wavelengths is analogous to H&E histology.

The last part of this dissertation describes the development of sectioning photoacoustic microscopy (SPAM), based on the advancement in spatial resolution and new contrasts for PAM, with applications in brain histology. Label-free SPAM, assisted by a microtome, acquires serial distortion-free images of a specimen on the surface. By exciting cell nuclei at 266 nm wavelength with high resolution, SPAM could pinpoint cell nuclei sensitively and specifically in the mouse brain section, as confirmed by H&E histology. SPAM was demonstrated to generate high-resolution 3D images, highlighting cell nuclei, of formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded mouse brains without tissue staining or clearing. SPAM can potentially serve as a high-throughput and minimal-artifact substitute for histology, probe many other biomolecules and cells, and become a universal tool for animal or human whole-organ microscopy, with diverse applications in life sciences.


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