We demonstrate cross-sectional birefringence- and polarization-independent backscatter imaging of laser-induced thermal damage in porcine myocardium in vitro, using a polarization-sensitive optical coherence tomography system. We compare the generated images with histological sections of the tissue and demonstrate that birefringence is a more sensitive indicator of thermal damage than is backscattered light. Loss of birefringence in thermally damaged regions is quantified and shown to have significant contrast with undamaged sections of the tissue. A detailed theoretical analysis of the birefringence measurements is provided, including a calculation of the systematic errors associated with background noise, system imperfections, and tissue dichroism.
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