Researchers have developed an enhanced version of optical coherence tomography (OCT) that can image biomedical samples at higher contrast and resolution over a wider 3D field of view than was previously possible. The new 3D microscope could be useful for biomedical research and eventually enable more accurate medical diagnostic imaging.
In Optica, Optica Publishing Group’s journal for high-impact research, the researchers from Duke University describe the new technique, which they call 3D optical coherence refraction tomography (3D OCRT). Using various biological samples, they show that 3D OCRT produces highly detailed images that reveal features difficult to observe with traditional OCT.
OCT uses light to provide high-resolution 3D images without requiring any contrast agents or labels. Although it is commonly used for ophthalmology applications, the imaging method can also be used to image many other parts of the body such as the skin and inside the ears, mouth, arteries and gastrointestinal tract.
“OCT is a volumetric imaging technique widely used in ophthalmology and other branches of medicine,” said first author Kevin C. Zhou. “We developed a new and exciting extension, featuring novel hardware combined with a new computational 3D image reconstruction algorithm to address some well-known limitations of the imaging technique.”
“We envision this approach being applied in a wide variety of biomedical imaging applications, such as in vivo diagnostic imaging of the human eye or skin,” said research team co-leader Joseph A. Izatt. “The hardware we designed to perform the technique can also be readily miniaturized into small probes or endoscopes to access the gastrointestinal tract and other parts of the body.”
Seeing more with OCT
Although OCT has proven useful both in clinical applications and biomedical research, it is difficult to acquire high-resolution OCT images over a wide field of view in all directions simultaneously due to fundamental limitations imposed by optical beam propagation. Another challenge is that OCT images contain high levels of random noise, called speckle, which can obscure biomedically important details.
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