Insights into photoacoustic speckle and applications in tumor characterization

Eno Hysi, Muhannad N. Fadhel, Michael J. Moore, Jason Zalev, Eric M. Strohm, Michael C. Kolios
In ultrasound imaging, fully-developed speckle arises from the spatiotemporal superposition of pressure waves backscattered by randomly distributed scatterers. Speckle appearance is affected by the imaging system characteristics (lateral and axial resolution) and the random-like nature of the underlying tissue structure. In this work, we examine speckle formation in acousticresolution photoacoustic (PA) imaging using simulations and experiments. Numerical and physical phantoms were constructed to demonstrate that PA speckle carries information related to unresolved absorber structure in a manner similar to ultrasound speckle and unresolved scattering structures. A fractal-based model of the tumor vasculature was used to study PA speckle from unresolved cylindrical vessels. We show that speckle characteristics and the frequency content of PA signals can be used to monitor changes in average vessel size, linked to tumor growth. Experimental validation on murine tumors demonstrates that PA speckle can be utilized to characterize the unresolved vasculature in acoustic-resolution photoacoustic imaging.

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