University of Washington (UW) researchers have helped develop a new kind of microscope to visualise cells in 3D, an advance that could aid early cancer detection.
The machine works by rotating the cell under the microscope lens and taking hundreds of pictures per rotation, and then digitally combining them to form a single 3D image.
The 3D visualisations could lead to big advances in early cancer detection, since clinicians today identify cancerous cells by using 2D pictures to assess the shape and size of the cells.
‘It’s a lot easier to spot a misshapen cell if you can see it from all sides,’ said Eric Seibel, a UW mechanical engineering associate professor. ‘A 2D representation of a 3D object is never perfectly accurate – imagine trying to get an exact picture of the moon, seeing only one side.’
The new microscope – developed in collaboration with Washington-based VisionGate and trademarked Cell-CT – works in a similar way to a CT-scan, but uses visible light instead of X-rays.
In a CT-scan, the patient is immobile while the X-ray machine rotates. In the Cell-CT microscope, each cell is embedded in a special gel inside a glass tube that rotates in front of a fixed camera that takes many pictures per rotation.
The gel has similar optical properties to the tube’s so that no light reflects off the glass.
In both processes, the end result is that hundreds of pictures are assembled to form a 3D image that can be viewed and rotated on a computer screen.
A video of 3D cell imaging can be found here: http://uwnews.org/article.asp?articleID=47061