Optoacoustic Tomography (OAT) is a rapidly growing technology that enables noninvasive deep imaging of biological tissues based on their light absorption. In OAT, the interaction of a pulsed laser with tissue increases the temperature of the absorbing components in a confined volume of tissue. Rapid perturbation of the temperature (<1°C) deep within tissue produces weak acoustic waves that easily travel to the surface of the tissue with minor attenuation. Abnormal angiogenesis in a malignant tumor, that increases its blood content, makes a native contrast for optoacoustic imaging; however, the application of OAT for early detection of malignant tumors requires the enhancement of optoacoustic signals originated from tumor by using an exogenous contrast agent. Due to their strong absorption, we have used gold nanoparticles (NP) as a contrast agent. 40nm spherical gold nanoparticles were attached to monoclonal antibody to target cell surface of breast cancer cells. The targeted cancer cells were implanted at depth of 5-6cm within a gelatinous object that optically resembles human breast. Experimental sensitivity measurements along with theoretical analysis showed that our optoacoustic imaging system is capable of detecting a phantom breast tumor with the volume of 0.15ml, which is composed of 25 million NP-targeted cancer cells, at a depth of 5 centimeters in vitro .© (2004) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.