In photoacoustic imaging, nanoparticle contrast agents offer strong signal intensity and long-term stability, but are limited by poor biodistribution and clearance profiles. Conversely, small molecules offer renal clearance, but relatively low photoacoustic signal. Here we describe a cellulose-based nanoparticle with photoacoustic signal superior to gold nanorods, but that undergoes enzymatic cleavage into constituent glucose molecules for renal clearance. Cellulose nanoparticles (CNPs) were synthesized through acidic cleavage of cellulose linters and purified with centrifugation. TEM indicated that the nanoparticles were 132 ± 46 nm; the polydispersity index was 0.138. Ex vivo characterization showed a photoacoustic limit of detection of 0.02 mg/mL CNPs, and the photoacoustic signal of CNPs was 1.5- to 3.0-fold higher than gold nanorods (also at 700 nm resonance) on a particle-to-particle basis. Cell toxicity assays suggested that overnight doses below 0.31 mg/mL CNPs produced no significant (p>0.05) impact on cell metabolism. Intravenous doses up to 0.24 mg were tolerated well in nude mice. Subcutaneous and orthotopic tumor xenografts of the OV2008 ovarian cancer cell line were then created in nude mice. Data was collected with a Nexus128 scanner from Endra LifeSciences. Spectral data used a LAZR system from Visualsonics both at 700 nm excitation. We injected CNPs (0.024 mg, 0.048 mg, and 0.80 mg) via tail vein and showed that the tumor photoacoustic signal reached maximum increase between 10 and 20 minutes. All injected concentrations were statistically (p<0.05) elevated relative to the control group with n=3 mice in each group, and dose and signal had a linear relationship at R2>0.96 suggesting quantitative signal. CNP biodegradation was demonstrated ex vivo with a glucose assay. CNPs in the presence of cellulase were reduced to free glucose in under than four hours. The glucose concentration before addition of cellulase was not detectable, but increased to 92.1 μg/mL in four hours. CNPs in the absence of cellulase did not produce glucose. Small fragments of nanoparticle in the treated cohort were observed with electron microscopy. There are few photoacoustic contrast agents that offer both high signal intensity and obvious clearance/biodegradation profiles. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first example of a sugar-based photoacoustic contrast agent with important implications for clinical translation of this emerging molecular imaging modality.