Photoacoustic imaging (PAI) has grown rapidly as a biomedical imaging technique in recent years, with key applications in cancer diagnosis and oximetry. In spite of these advances, the literature provides little insight into thermal tissue interactions involved in PAI. To elucidate these basic phenomena, we have developed, validated, and implemented a three-dimensional numerical model of tissue photothermal (PT) response to repetitive laser pulses. The model calculates energy deposition, fluence distributions, transient temperature and damage profiles in breast tissue with blood vessels and generalized perfusion. A parametric evaluation of these outputs vs. vessel diameter and depth, optical beam diameter, wavelength, and irradiance, was performed. For a constant radiant exposure level, increasing beam diameter led to a significant increase in subsurface heat generation rate. Increasing vessel diameter resulted in two competing effects – reduced mean energy deposition in the vessel due to light attenuation and greater thermal superpositioning due to reduced thermal relaxation. Maximum temperatures occurred either at the surface or in subsurface regions of the dermis, depending on vessel geometry and position. Results are discussed in terms of established exposure limits and levels used in prior studies. While additional experimental and numerical study is needed, numerical modeling represents a powerful tool for elucidating the effect of PA imaging devices on biological tissue.
Medical diagnostic devices based on photoacoustics represent an emerging area with significant potential for evaluation of brain injury and chemical agent exposure, as well as detection of pandemic diseases and cancer. However, few studies have addressed photothermal safety of these devices which emit high-power laser pulses to generate rapid, selective, yet non-destructive heating of subsurface structures. Towards elucidation of laser-tissue interactions and factors of safety for photothermal injury, we have developed a three-dimensional numerical model including light propagation, heat transfer and thermal damage algorithms. Literature surveys were performed to identify appropriate optical properties and the range of device exposure levels implemented in prior in vivo studies. Initial simulations provided model validation against results from the literature. Simulations were then performed based on breast tissue with discrete blood vessels irradiated by a train of laser pulses (10 Hz) at 800 and 1064 nm. For a constant exposure level, increasing beam diameter from 0.2 to 2.0 cm led to a factor of 2.5 increase in subsurface heat generation rates. Our preliminary modeling results indicate that for a 10 second tissue exposure under standard photoacoustic imaging conditions, irradiance-based safety limits should provide a factor of safety of 6 or greater over exposure levels that induce thermal coagulation. Opticalthermal modeling represents a powerful tool for elucidating photothermal effects relevant to the safety and effectiveness of photoacoustic systems.