The development of gold nanoparticles for molecular optoacoustic imaging is a very promising area of research and development. Enhancement of optoacoustic imaging for molecular detection of tumors requires the engineering of nanoparticles with geometrical and molecular features that can enhance selective targeting of malignant cells while optimizing the sensitivity of optoacoustic detection. In this article, cylindrical gold nanoparticles (i.e. gold nanorods) were fabricated with a plasmon resonance frequency in the near infra-red region of the spectrum, where deep irradiation of tissue is possible using an Alexandrite laser. Gold nanorods (Au-NRs) were functionalized by covalent attachment of Poly(ethylene glycol) to enhance their biocompatibility. These particles were further functionalized with the aim of targeting breast cancer cells using monoclonal antibodies that binds to Her2/neu receptors, which are over expressed on the surface of breast cancer cells. A custom Laser Optoacoustic Imaging System (LOIS) was designed and employed to image nanoparticle-targeted cancer cells in a phantom and PEGylated Au-NRs that were injected subcutaneously into a nude mouse. The results of our experiments show that functionalized Au-NRs with a plasmon resonance frequency at near infra-red region of the spectrum can be detected and imaged in vivo using laser optoacoustic imaging system.