Scientists at the Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology, have developed a new method for 3D imaging of nanometric processes inside living cells while they are moving, which will increase ease in assessing population attributes, diagnosing medical conditions, and testing new drugs, according to a press release from the university.
Asst. Prof. Yoav Shechtman of the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering, who headed the research project, re-engineered an existing imagining machine of high value, creating a new machine that produces 3D images of 1,000 cells per minute. The research was also led by postdoctoral researcher Dr. Lucien E. Weiss, with the team publishing their results in the academic journal Nature Nanotechnology.
“Our goal is to enable 3D imaging within live cells under conditions that resemble their natural environment. No less important, we aim to do so at high throughput rates. It’s a huge challenge, since 3D microscopy usually requires extensive amounts of time and some sort of scanning. Here we use single images while the cells are flowing,” said Asst. Prof. Shechtman.
“This success can have important applications in basic science, such as understanding DNA’s 3D structure in a living cell, and also in the field of nanomedicine, meaning medical treatment based on engineered nanometric particles such as those created in Prof. Schroeder’s lab,” Shechtman noted.
“For example, the new technology will enable us to measure the absorption rate of therapeutic particles in live cells, track their dispersal in the cell and monitor their effect on the cell. Today there are techniques for mapping and measuring cells, but those that provide high throughput only show a partial and 2D picture. Our technology combines the advantages of the various techniques and provides a 3D image at a high rate,” he explained.
With the new system, experiments were carried out on DNA molecules of live yeast and white blood cells with engineered nanometric particles, in conjunction with Prof. Avi Schroeder's lab of the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering.
“The sampling rate and number of cells sampled are very important in the biological context, since biology is typically ‘noisy’ and not precise, and in order to reach a conclusion it is necessary to have statistics for large quantities. In certain cases, due to low sampling rates, it is impossible to collect this type of statistical information. By the time you finish collecting the data, the interesting phenomenon has already changed. Therefore, it is important to use a technology that enables high rates of sampling,” Schectman continued.
Discussing the mertis of previous imagining technology, Schechtman said that ImageStream ― the sophisticated imaging machine which was re-engineered ― is "an excellent tool, but until now, has only been used to record 2D images or projections of objects. For many applications, however, it is important to collect 3D data. For example, even if we just want to determine the distance between two particles, a 2D measurement is not sufficient, since the depth dimension also contributes to the distance.”
This led the researchers to find ways of moving to 3D imagining.
“To that end we needed to ‘open the hood’ and assemble our unique optical system inside. Keep in mind that this is a machine that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we couldn’t take for granted that the Lokey Center’s Imaging Unit would agree, but from the moment that we opened up the machine and looked inside, it was obvious what we needed to do it (without causing damage),” said Shechtman.
The researchers believe this new development will lead to scientific breakthroughs and applications in biological and biotechnological research, medical diagnostics and new treatments.