Lihong Wang, the Gene K. Beare Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis, has revealed for the first time a new technique that focuses diffuse light inside a dynamic scattering medium containing living tissue.

In addition, Wang and his team have improved the speed of optical focusing deep inside tissue by two orders of magnitude. This improvement in speed is an important step toward noninvasive optical imaging in deep tissue and photodynamic therapy.

In the new research, the team built on a technique it developed in 2010 to improve the focusing speed of time-reversed ultrasonically encoded (TRUE) optical focusing for applications in living tissue. To focus light, the engineers use a virtual internal guide star at the targeted location. By detecting the wavefront of light emitted from the guide star, they can determine an optimum phase pattern that allows scattered light moving along different paths to focus at the targeted location.

When light is shined into living biological tissue, breathing and blood flow changes the optical interference, or speckle pattern, which can cause previous methods to focus diffuse light inside scattering media to fail. Scientists have to act quickly to get a clear image.

The new TRUE technology combines two techniques: focused ultrasonic modulation and optical phase conjugation. Researchers use a type of mirror to record then time-reverse the ultrasound-modulated light emitted from the ultrasonic focus to achieve the best focus.

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