Photoacoustic tomography (PAT) is intrinsically sensitive to blood oxygen saturation (sO2) in vivo. However, making accurate sO2 measurements without knowledge of tissue- and instrumentation-related correction factors is extremely challenging. We have developed a low-cost flow phantom to facilitate validation of PAT systems. The phantom is composed of a flow circuit of tubing partially embedded within a tissue-mimicking material, with independent sensors providing online monitoring of the optical absorption spectrum and partial pressure of oxygen in the tube. We first test the flow phantom using two small molecule dyes that are frequently used for photoacoustic imaging: methylene blue and indocyanine green. We then demonstrate the potential of the phantom for evaluating sO2 using chemical oxygenation and deoxygenation of blood in the circuit. Using this dynamic assessment of the photoacoustic sO2 measurement in phantoms in relation to a ground truth, we explore the influence of multispectral processing and spectral coloring on accurate assessment of sO2. Future studies could exploit this low-cost dynamic flow phantom to validate fluence correction algorithms and explore additional blood parameters such as pH and also absorptive and other properties of different fluids.

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