We present the design of a sterilizable optical reference to characterize and quantify the inter-patient variations in tissue autofluorescence during autofluorescence bronchoscopy with Richard Wolf's diagnostic autofluorescence endoscopy (DAFE) system. The reference was designed to have optical and spectral properties similar to those of the human bronchial wall in spectral conditions corresponding to autofluorescence bronchoscopy conducted with the DAFE system (fluorescence excitation at 390-470 nm and red backscattering light at 590-680 nm). The reference's effective attenuation coefficient and reflectance were measured at 675 nm. In addition, its fluorescence emission spectrum was determined under 430 nm wavelength excitation. The reference is photostable, reproducible, biocompatible and small enough to be easily inserted through the working channel of a conventional bronchofibrescope. This cylindrical (length: 2 mm; diameter: 2 mm) optical reference was validated in a clinical environment.