New Microscopic X-Ray Technology Revolutionizes Microbiology

This fish was the first lucky organism to have its cells imaged using microscopic X-ray vision. This kind of image was never possible before. But now scientists can watch as living cells transform within your body.

Professor Vasilis Ntziachristos and his researchers at the Helmholtz Zentrum München used a combination of lasers and ultrasound machines (and math, of course) to create the high-res, 3-D images of this zebra fish's internal structures. They accomplished that by injecting the fish with fluorescing dyes — some of which are already approved for clinical use — and then bombarding the tissues with lasers. Rather than attempting to look for refracted light, which can only penetrate between one-half and one millimeter, they used the ultrasound machine to listen for the tiny shock waves created by the momentary temperature increases caused by exciting the fluorescing particles with lasers. A bunch of math later, and they end up with a 3-D image of the insides of a fish.

Dr. Daniel Razansky, a member of Ntziachristos's team, had this to say:

This opens the door to a whole new universe of research. For the first time, biologists will be able to optically follow the development of organs, cellular function and genetic expression through several millimeters to centimeters of tissue.

Ntziachristos thinks that the technology, which they've dubbed multi-spectral opto-acoustic tomography (MOST) can have more than simple diagnostic applications: he expects it to revolutionize drug research:

MSOT can truly revolutionize biomedical research, drug discovery and healthcare. Since MSOT allows optical and fluorescence imaging of tissue to a depth of several centimeters, it could become the method of choice for imaging cellular and subcellular processes throughout entire living tissues.

They also think it could begin to eliminate the need for wide-scale animal killings and dissections in the name of biomedical research, which should please the PETA crowd.

The sound of light: Innovative technology shatters the barriers of modern light microscopy [Helmholtz Zentrum München]