Rethinking Healthcare

Medical images are 100x less pixelated with synchrotron tech

Medical images are 100x less pixelated with synchrotron tech

Posting in Cancer

This rapid, high-res imaging technology photographs human tissue with the light emitted by a particle accelerator.

A new rapid, high-resolution imaging technique uses a dozen beams of light to produce a very unpixelated portrait.

It can image human cancer tissue samples at the molecular level and provide real-time monitoring of live cells, Alzheimer’s disease, and Malaria parasites.

Its full name is long… Fourier-transform infrared microspectroscopy. The researchers built it a facility called Infrared Environmental Imaging (IRENI) at the Synchrotron Radiation Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

First, a synchrotron is a type of particle accelerator, where atomic particles collide really, really quickly. (Some famous accelerators exist(ed) at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, Stanford’s SLAC, Brookhaven on Long Island, and of course, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.)

So this imaging tech works by exposing the biological molecules to infrared light. Specifically, it’s multiple beams of 'synchrotron light' – the light emitted by a particle accelerator.

Streams of speeding electrons emit continuous light across all kinds of wavelengths. And its intensity is about a million times brighter than sunlight.

Using 12 beams to illuminate the camera allows researchers to collect thousands of ‘chemical fingerprints’ simultaneously. This produces an image that is 100 times less pixelated than in conventional infrared imaging (pictured).

And it takes minutes, rather than hours. This technique isn’t new, but the increased resolution and quick image acquisition times are unprecedented.

“We did not realize until now the improvement in detail and quality that sampling at this pixel size would bring,” says study coauthor Rohit Bhargava of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. And unlike with the optical microscope method, tissue samples don’t need to be stained or tagged and labeled.

The researchers demonstrated how the technique could help breast and prostate cancer diagnoses. Illinois news explains:

The researchers were able to detect features that distinguished the epithelial cells, in which cancers begin, from the stromal cells, which are the type found in deeper tissues, with unprecedented detail.

Separating the two layers of cells is a ‘basement membrane,’ which prevents malignant cells from spreading from the epithelial cells into the stromal cells. Early-stage cancers are concentrated in the epithelial cells, but metastasis occurs when the basement membrane is breached.

The technique was reported in Nature Methods this week. The team was co-led by Carol Hirschmugl of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Image: traditional infrared vs. IRENI / Carol Hirschmugl, Michael Nasse

(This is what Kenny Powers has to say about being pixelated.)

Share this

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure