Photoacoustic imaging (also called optoacoustic or thermoacoustic imaging) has the potential to image animal or human organs, such as the breast and the brain, with simultaneous high contrast and high spatial resolution. This article provides an overview of the rapidly expanding field of photoacoustic imaging for biomedical applications. Imaging techniques, including depth profiling in layered media, scanning tomography with focused ultrasonic transducers, image forming with an acoustic lens, and computed tomography with unfocused transducers, are introduced. Special emphasis is placed on computed tomography, including reconstruction algorithms, spatial resolution, and related recent experiments. Promising biomedical applications are discussed throughout the text, including (1) tomographic imaging of the skin and other superficial organs by laser-induced photoacoustic microscopy, which offers the critical advantages, over current high-resolution optical imaging modalities, of deeper imaging depth and higher absorption contrasts, (2) breast cancer detection by near-infrared light or radio-frequency–wave-induced photoacoustic imaging, which has important potential for early detection, and (3) small animal imaging by laser-induced photoacoustic imaging, which measures unique optical absorption contrasts related to important biochemical information and provides better resolution in deep tissues than optical imaging.

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