Review Article | Published:

A practical guide to photoacoustic tomography in the life sciences

Nature Methods volume 13, pages 627638 (2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

The life sciences can benefit greatly from imaging technologies that connect microscopic discoveries with macroscopic observations. One technology uniquely positioned to provide such benefits is photoacoustic tomography (PAT), a sensitive modality for imaging optical absorption contrast over a range of spatial scales at high speed. In PAT, endogenous contrast reveals a tissue's anatomical, functional, metabolic, and histologic properties, and exogenous contrast provides molecular and cellular specificity. The spatial scale of PAT covers organelles, cells, tissues, organs, and small animals. Consequently, PAT is complementary to other imaging modalities in contrast mechanism, penetration, spatial resolution, and temporal resolution. We review the fundamentals of PAT and provide practical guidelines for matching PAT systems with research needs. We also summarize the most promising biomedical applications of PAT, discuss related challenges, and envision PAT's potential to lead to further breakthroughs.

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Acknowledgements

We thank J. Ballard for reading the manuscript and R. Zhang for preparing the figures. This work was sponsored by the US National Institutes of Health grants DP1 EB016986 (NIH Director's Pioneer Award), R01 CA186567 (NIH Director's Transformative Research Award), and U01 NS090579 (BRAIN Initiative), all to L.V.W.

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  1. Optical Imaging Laboratory, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

    • Lihong V Wang
    •  & Junjie Yao

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Competing interests

L.V.W. has a financial interest in Microphotoacoustics, Inc., which, however, did not support this work. J.Y. declares no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lihong V Wang.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nmeth.3925

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