Together with his research team, Professor Vasilis Ntziachristos from the Helmholtz Zentrum Munich, Germany and the Technical University Munich, Germany developed a new technology to make light audible. The technique, called multi-spectral opto-acoustic tomography (MSOT), combines light and ultrasound to visualize fluorescent proteins that are seated several centimeters deep into living tissue.
The researchers used a genetically modified adult zebra fish which carried fluorescent pigments in its tissue. They illuminated the fish from multiple angles using flashes of laser light that are absorbed by the fluorescent pigments in the fish. The pigments absorb the light, a process that causes slight local increases of temperature, which in turn result in tiny local volume expansions. This happens very quickly and creates small shock waves. In effect, the short laser pulse gives rise to an ultrasound wave that the researchers pick up with an ultrasound microphone. To analyze the resulting acoustic patterns, a computer is attached. The computer uses specially developed mathematical formulas to evaluate and interpret the specific distortions caused by scales, muscles, bones and internal organs to generate a three-dimensional image. In the future this technology may facilitate the examination of tumors or coronary vessels in humans.