The aim of this study was to use pulsed near infrared photoacoustic spectroscopy to determine the oxygen saturation (SO2) of a saline suspension of red blood cells in vitro. The photoacoustic measurements were made in a cuvette which formed part of a larger circuit through which the red blood cell suspension was circulated. Oxygen saturation of the red blood cell suspension was altered between 2-3% to 100% in step increments using a membrane oxygenator and at each increment an independent measurement of oxygen saturation was made using a co-oximeter. An optical parametric oscillator laser system provided nanosecond excitation pulses at a number of wavelengths in the near-infrared spectrum (740-1040nm) which were incident on the cuvette. The resulting acoustic signals were detected using a broadband (15MHz) Fabry-Perot polymer film transducer. The optical transport coefficient and amplitude were determined from the acoustic signals as a function of wavelength. These data were then used to calculate the relative concentrations of oxy- and deoxyhaemoglobin, using their known specific absorption coefficients and an empirically determined wavelength dependence of optical scattering over the wavelength range investigated. From this, the oxygen saturation of the suspension was derived with an accuracy of ±5% compared to the co-oximeter SO2 measurements.© (2004) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.