Researchers at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom have developed an ultrasound imaging technique that uses sound rather than light to view the interior of cells. Compared with conventional optical microscopy, this technique allows researchers to image smaller cells and get higher-resolution images without damaging the cells.
Fernando Pérez-Cota, PhD, and authors, who published their research in Scientific Reports, hope this new technology can be used in hematopoietic cell transplantations (HCTs) and accelerate cancer diagnosis by unearthing the inner workings of cancer cells to a greater level of precision and detail. “Because of this we can see inside cells that one day might be put back into the body, for instance as stem-cell transplants,” said Prof. Matt Clark.
In conventional optical microscopy, the resolution is limited by the wavelength, which cannot go smaller than that of blue light because the energy carried in photons of light in the ultraviolet (and shorter wavelengths) is so high it can destroy the bonds that hold molecules together, thus damaging the cells.
“People are most familiar with ultrasound as a way of looking inside the body – in the simplest terms we’ve engineered it to the point where it can look inside an individual cell,” said Prof. Matt Clark, a co-author of the study. “The great thing is that, like ultrasound on the body, ultrasound in the cells causes no damage and requires no toxic chemicals to work. Because of this, we can see inside cells that one day might be put back into the body, for instance as [HCTs].”
Source: Pérez-Cota F, Smith RJ, Moradi E, et al. High resolution 3D imaging of living cells with sub-optical wavelength phonons. Sci Rep. 2016;6:39326.