Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a non-invasive interferometry imaging technique with micrometre scale resolution at millimetre scale penetration depths in highly scattering tissues. This study describes a new evolution of OCT, termed molecular optical coherence phase microscopy (molecular OCPM), which is capable of imaging the expression of molecular markers at the cellular level using gold nanorods as photothermal imaging agents. Gold nanorods were selected as the imaging agents due to their excellent photothermal energy conversion efficiency and tuneable plasmon bands. The gold nanorods were surface functionalized to achieve efficient and specific targeting of the tyrosine kinase human epidermal growth factor receptor HER2 molecular markers used as a model tumor biomarker. Phase modulation retrieval was used to generate photothermal maps which were overlayed on intensity images. Phase modulation within the filter corresponding to the laser excitation modulation frequency was clearly observed for cells targeted with the molecular photothermal imaging agents. These results confirm the ability of photothermal optical coherence phase microscopy to image accurately at the cellular level gold nanorods molecularly targeted to a biomarker expressed on cancer cell membranes, paving the way for its application to novel bioimaging procedures.
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