Researchers Build Powerful 3-D Microscope, Create Images of Cancer Cells in Controlled Microenvironments

University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center researchers have designed and built a microscope capable of creating high-resolution, 3-D images of living cancer cells in realistic, controllable microenvironments. “There is no microscope that allows us to look at living cells with this resolution and precision in a controlled microenvironment. We can now create 3-D images of cancer cells and record how they interact with their microenvironment via signaling,” said Dr. Gaudenz Danuser, Chair of the Lyda Hill Department of Bioinformatics at UT Southwestern and corresponding author of a study detailing the project in the February 22, 2016 issue of Developmental Cell. The open-access article is titled “Quantitative Multiscale Cell Imaging in Controlled 3D Microenvironments.” This approach enables researchers to study cells in controlled microenvironments at a level of detail that should accelerate the pace of discovery in many fields of biology, Dr. Danuser explained. “It’s a two-photon, light-sheet microscope that allows 3-D time-lapse imaging of cells deep within physiologically realistic microenvironments,” said Dr. Reto Fiolka, an Instructor of Cell Biology at UT Southwestern and fellow corresponding author of the study. Using the new microscope and software, the researchers created 3-D images of the detailed shapes that skin and lung cancer cells develop as they move through tissue. They also created images and movies of the dynamic activation of a key signaling molecule (PI3-kinase) that is involved in many cellular processes. The new microscope was designed to solve a long-standing problem in biology: the need to artificially constrain cells – usually by flattening them onto glass plates in two dimensions – in order to image them clearly.
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