Extracellular oxygen concentrations influence cell metabolism and tissue function. Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging Microscopy (FLIM) offers a non-invasive method for quantifying local oxygen concentrations. However, existing methods show limited spatial resolution and/or require custom made systems. This study describes a new optimised approach for quantitative extracellular oxygen detection, providing an off-the-shelf system with high spatial resolution and an improved lifetime determination over previous techniques, while avoiding systematic photon pile-up. Fluorescence lifetime detection of an oxygen sensitive fluorescent dye, tris(2,2'-bipyridyl)ruthenium(II) chloride hexahydrate [Ru(bipy)3]2+, was measured using a Becker&Hickl time-correlated single photon counting (TCSPC) card with excitation provided by a multi-photon laser. This technique was able to identify a subpopulation of isolated chondrocyte cells, seeded in three-dimensional agarose gel, displaying a significant spatial oxygen gradient. Thus this technique provides a powerful tool for quantifying spatial oxygen gradients within three-dimensional cellular models.© (2010) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.