A new technique called photoacoustic (or optoacoustic) tomography, which marries optics with ultrasonic imaging, should in theory be able to provide detailed scans comparable to those produced by magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) or X-ray computerised tomography (CT), but with the cost and convenience of a hand-held scanner.
The technique works at far greater depths (up to 7 cm) than other optical-imaging techniques such as confocal microscopy or optical-coherence tomography, which penetrate to depths of only about a millimeter. And because the degree to which a particular wavelength of light is absorbed depends on the type of tissue and, in the case of blood, on whether it is oxygenated or deoxygenated, there is, in effect, a natural contrast agent.
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SPIE Members Alexander Oraevsky and Lihong Wang, mentioned in the article, are chairs of the annual Photons Plus Ultrasound conference at SPIE Photonics West each year. Wang was recently named editor of the Journal of Biomedical Optics, published by SPIE.