A new photoacoustic flow cytometry was developed for real-time detection of circulating cells, nanoparticles, and contrast agents in vivo. Its capability, integrated with photothermal and optical clearing methods, was demonstrated using a near-infrared tunable laser to characterize the in vivo kinetics of Indocyanine Green alone and single cancer cells labeled with gold nanorods and Indocyanine Green in the vasculature of the mouse ear. In vivo applications are discussed, including selective nanophotothermolysis of metastatic squamous cells, label-free detection of melanoma cells, study of pharmokinetics, and immune response to apoptotic and necrotic cells, with potential translation to humans. The threshold sensitivity is estimated as one cancer cell in the background of 107 normal blood cells.
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