Biophotonic imaging with ultrasound-modulated optical tomography (UOT) promises ultrasonically resolved imaging in biological tissues. A key challenge in this imaging technique is a low signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). We show significant UOT signal enhancement by using intense time-gated acoustic bursts. A CCD camera captured the speckle pattern from a laser-illuminated tissue phantom. Differences in speckle contrast were observed when ultrasonic bursts were applied, compared with when no ultrasound was applied. When CCD triggering was synchronized with burst initiation, acoustic-radiation-force-induced displacements were detected. To avoid mechanical contrast in UOT images, the CCD camera acquisition was delayed several milliseconds until transient effects of acoustic radiation force attenuated to a satisfactory level. The SNR of our system was sufficiently high to provide an image pixel per acoustic burst without signal averaging. Because of the substantially improved SNR, the use of intense acoustic bursts is a promising signal enhancement strategy for UOT.
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