Brain and Breast Imaging by TCSPC NIRS Techniques

Diffuse optical tomography (DOT), aims at the reconstruction of optical properties in highly scattering media. Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) is a synonym for the same technique. Biomedical applications of DOT are based on illumination of thick tissue by NIR light, detection of diffusely transmitted or reflected light, or fluorescence of endogenous or exogenous fluorophores. Typical applications of DOT techniques are optical mammography, brain imaging, and non-invasive investigation of drug effects in small animals.
In spite of the poor spatial resolution, DOT in the NIR has the benefit that the measured absorption coefficients are related to the biochemical constitution of the tissue, such as hemoglobin concentration and blood oxygenation. When exogenous markers are used, the absorption or fluorescence delivers additional information about blood flow, blood leakage or ion concentrations.
In images obtained by continuous illumination and detection it is difficult to distinguish between the effects of scattering and absorption. The situation is much better if pulsed or modulated light is used to transilluminate the tissue and the pulse shape or the amplitude and phase of the transmitted light are recorded. The general effect of variations in the scattering and absorption on the shape of the transmitted pulses is shown in the figure below.

Effect of scattering and absorption on the shape of a transmitted pulse

Moreover, the options of spatial reconstruction improve by using temporal resolution: Photons arriving at early times have travelled a shorter distance in the tissue than later photons. On average, they have taken a more direct path through the tissue. Temporal resolution therefore provides information on the depth in which the detected inhomogeneities are located.
Typical clinical applications are brain imaging and breast imaging. Brain imaging is usually performed in a multi-source multi-detector setup, breast imaging in a scanning setup. The system architecture for these cases is shown in the figures below. The setups have in common that the diffusely transmitted light is recorded by several detectors for different source-detector combinations or different projection angles. In addition, several laser wavelength may be used to obtain separate data for oxy- and deoxyhemoglobin, water, or exogenous absorbers.

32-channel TCSPC brain tomography setup
General principle of a TCSPC scanning mammograph

Transmitted signals (Time-of-flight distributions) from the mammography setup shown above are shown in the figure below. The curves are for the three different projection angles, as shown on the right.

Left: Time-of-flight distributions in one pixel of a breast scan. Different projection angels, acquisition time 100 ms per pixel. Right: Detector and source configuration. D1 is the direct detector, D2, D3 and D4 are offset by 2 cm.

By performing an x-y scan and recording time-of-flight curves for every point of the scan images of the internal tisue can be constructed. There are different construction algorithms: Time gating, the use of moments of the time-of-flight distributions, an fit algorithms. Mammograms (of a healthy volunteer) obatimes by time gating for late photons are shown in the figure below.

Mammograms of a healthy volunteer recorded simultaneously at four projection angles. The images were generated from photon counts in a late time window. The arrangement of the mammograms corresponds to that of the detectors D1-D4 in the previous figure.

For more information, related applications and references, please see:
The bh TCSPC Handbook, chapter ‘Diffuse Optical Tomography: DOT, NIRS and fNIRS’

 

References Related to NIRS

More references in W. Becker, The bh TCSPC Handbook 7ed. (2017)

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