The general two-layer inverse problem in biomedical photon migration is to estimate the absorption and scattering coefficients of each layer as well as the top-layer thickness. We attempted to solve this problem, using experimental and simulated spatially resolved frequency-domain (FD) reflectance for optical properties typical of skin overlying muscle or skin overlying fat in the near infrared. Two forward models of light propagation were used: a two-layer diffusion solution [Appl. Opt. 37, 779 (1998)] and a hybrid Monte Carlo (MC) diffusion model [Appl. Opt. 37, 7401 (1998)]. MC-simulated FD reflectance data were fitted as relative measurements to the hybrid and the pure diffusion models. It was found that the hybrid model could determine all the optical properties of the two-layer media studied to ∼5%. Also, the same accuracy could be achieved by means of fitting MC-simulated cw reflectance data as absolute measurements, but fitting them as relative ones is an ill-posed problem. In contrast, two-layer diffusion could not retrieve the top-layer optical properties as accurately for FD data and was ill-posed for both relative and absolute cw data. The hybrid and the pure diffusion models were also fitted to experimental FD reflectance measurements from two-layer tissue-simulating phantoms representative of skin-on-fat and skin-on-muscle baseline optical properties. Both the hybrid and the diffusion models could determine the optical properties of the lower layer. The hybrid model demonstrated its potential to retrieve quantitatively the transport scattering coefficient of skin (the upper layer), which was not possible with the pure diffusion model. Systematic discrepancies between model and experiment may compromise the accuracy of the deduced top-layer optical properties. Identifying and eliminating such discrepancies is critical to practical application of the method.
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