Photoacoustic (PA) imaging (PAI) has been shown to be a promising tool for non-invasive blood vessel imaging. A PAI system comprising a hemispherical detector array (HDA) has been reported previously as a method providing high morphological reproducibility. However, further improvements in diagnostic capability will require improving the image quality of PAI and fusing functional and morphological imaging. Our newly developed PAI system prototype not only enhances the PA image resolution but also acquires ultrasonic (US) B-mode images at continuous positions in the same coordinate axes. In addition, the pulse-to-pulse alternating laser irradiation shortens the measurement time difference between two wavelengths. We scanned extremities and breasts in an imaging region 140 mm in diameter and obtained 3D-PA images of fine blood vessels, including arterioles and venules. We could estimate whether a vessel was an artery or a vein by using the S-factor obtained from the PA images at two wavelengths, which corresponds approximately to the haemoglobin oxygen saturation. Furthermore, we observed tumour-related blood vessels around breast tumours with unprecedented resolution. In the future, clinical studies with our new PAI system will help to elucidate various mechanisms of vascular-associated diseases and events.
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