Food-Grade Activated Charcoal for Contrast-Enhanced Photoacoustic Imaging of Aspiration: A Phantom Study

Huijuan Zhang, Ahmed Nagy, Corrin Bowman, Melanie Peladeau-Pigeon, Alexander Hu, Jonathan Lovell, Catriona M. Steele, Jun Xia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Aspiration pneumonia has the highest attributable mortality of all medical complications post-stroke, or in individuals with progressive neurological diseases. For optimum health outcomes for individuals with dysphagia, a non-invasive and convenient method for objectively detecting aspiration is needed. This study introduces a potential new aspiration screening method based on photoacoustic imaging (PAI), a medical imaging technology that measures the optical contrast of tissue rather than mechanical or elastic properties. In this preliminary study, a tissue-mimicking neck phantom was designed to test the performance of PAI for aspiration screening with a charcoal solution as a contrast agent. A 1064 nm wavelength light source was illuminated on the anterior of the neck phantom to induce the photoacoustic effect. The resulting photoacoustic signal of the charcoal contrast in the mock trachea was detected by a linear transducer array with a 2.25 MHz central ultrasound frequency. The phantom results showed that charcoal solution at 10 mg/ml exhibited strong photoacoustic signals when flowing into the phantom trachea. By overlaying the photoacoustic signals of the charcoal contrast on top of the ultrasound image, we were able to simultaneously visualize the movement of food contrast and a cross-section of tissue structures during mock swallowing. Moreover, we confirmed the ability to detect the flow of charcoal contrast at a small bolus volume of ~ 7 μl through the phantom, suggesting high sensitivity to detect small aspiration events. The study suggests that PAI holds promise to be developed as an aspiration detection tool with charcoal powder as a contrast agent.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1651-1661
Number of pages11
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Aspiration
  • Deglutition
  • Dysphagia
  • Imaging
  • Photoacoustic imaging
  • Ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Speech and Hearing


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