Most pathological conditions elicit changes in the tissue optical response that may be interrogated by one or more optical imaging modalities. Any single modality typically only furnishes an incomplete picture of the tissue optical response, hence an approach that integrates complementary optical imaging modalities is needed for a more comprehensive non-destructive and minimally-invasive tissue characterization. We have developed a dual-modality system, incorporating optical coherence tomography (OCT) and fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM), that is capable of simultaneously characterizing the 3-D tissue morphology and its biochemical composition. The Fourier domain OCT subsystem, at an 830 nm center wavelength, provided high-resolution morphological volumetric tissue images with an axial and lateral resolution of 7.3 and 13.4 µm, respectively. The multispectral FLIM subsystem, based on a direct pulse-recording approach (upon 355 nm laser excitation), provided two-dimensional superficial maps of the tissue autofluorescence intensity and lifetime at three customizable emission bands with 100 µm lateral resolution. Both subsystems share the same excitation/illumination optical path and are simultaneously raster scanned on the sample to generate coregistered OCT volumes and FLIM images. The developed OCT/FLIM system was capable of a maximum A-line rate of 59 KHz for OCT and a pixel rate of up to 30 KHz for FLIM. The dual-modality system was validated with standard fluorophore solutions and subsequently applied to the characterization of two biological tissue types: postmortem human coronary atherosclerotic plaques, and in vivo normal and cancerous hamster cheek pouch epithelial tissue.
OCIS codes: (170.2520) Fluorescence microscopy, (170.3880) Medical and biological imaging, (170.4500) Optical coherence tomography, (170.6510) Spectroscopy, tissue diagnostics, (170.6935) Tissue characterization, (300.6500) Spectroscopy, time-resolved