3-D images of cancer cells in the body: Physicists present new method

May 16, 2018, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
A picture of a tumor (green) generated with the newly developed technique. Credit: Jan Laufer / MLU

Medical physicists at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) have developed a new method that can generate detailed three-dimensional images of the body's interior. These can be used to more closely investigate the development of cancer cells. The research group published its findings in Communication Physics.

Clinicians and scientists seek to better understand and their properties in order to provide targeted treatment. Individual cancer are often examined in test tubes before the findings are tested in living organisms. "Our aim is to visualise cancer cells inside the living to find out how they function, how they spread and how they react to new therapies," says medical physicist Professor Jan Laufer from MLU. He specialises in the field of photoacoustic imaging, a process that uses ultrasound waves generated by laser beams to produce high-resolution, three-dimensional images of the body's interior.

"The problem is that are transparent. This makes it difficult to use optical methods to examine tumours in the body," explains Laufer, whose research group has developed a new method to solve this problem. First, the scientists introduce a specific gene into the genome of the cancer cells.

"Once inside the cells, the gene produces a phytochrome protein, which originates from plants and bacteria. There it serves as a light sensor," Laufer says. In the next step, the researchers illuminate the tissue with short pulses of light at two different wavelengths using a laser. Inside the body, the light pulses are absorbed and converted into . These waves can then be measured outside the organism, and two images of the body's interior can be reconstructed based on this data.

"The special feature of phytochrome proteins is that they alter their structure and thus also their absorption properties, depending on the wavelength of the laser beams. This results in changes to the amplitude of the that are generated in the tumour cells. None of the other tissue components, for example, blood vessels, have this property—their signal remains constant," Laufer says. By calculating the difference between the two images, a high-resolution, three-dimensional image of the tumour cells is created, which is free of the otherwise overwhelming background contrast.

The development of Halle's medical physicists can be applied to a wide range of applications in the preclinical research and the life sciences. In addition to cancer research, the method can be used to observe cellular and genetic processes in living organisms.

Explore further: New sensor measures calcium concentrations deep inside tissue

More information: Julia Märk et al, Dual-wavelength 3D photoacoustic imaging of mammalian cells using a photoswitchable phytochrome reporter protein, Communications Physics (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s42005-017-0003-2

Related Stories

Precise 3-D imaging of skin cancer tumours

November 15, 2017

Scientists and clinicians from Singapore and Germany have successfully used multispectral optoacoustic tomography (MSOT) to achieve accurate, real-time 3-D imaging of non-melanoma skin cancer tumours. This imaging technique ...

Flipping the switch to better see cancer cells at depths

November 9, 2015

Using a high-tech imaging method, a team of biomedical engineers at the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis was able to see early-developing cancer cells deeper in tissue than ever ...

Tumor-trained T cells go on patrol

May 15, 2017

'Tumour-trained' immune cells - which have the potential to kill cancer cells - have been seen moving from one tumour to another for the first time. The new findings, which were uncovered by scientists at Australia's Garvan ...

Recommended for you

Engineers invent groundbreaking spin-based memory device

December 7, 2018

A team of international researchers led by engineers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have invented a new magnetic device to manipulate digital information 20 times more efficiently and with 10 times more stability ...

Multichannel vectorial holographic display and encryption

December 7, 2018

Holography is a powerful tool that can reconstruct wavefronts of light and combine the fundamental wave properties of amplitude, phase, polarization, wave vector and frequency. Smart multiplexing techniques (multiple signal ...

A new 'spin' on kagome lattices

December 7, 2018

Like so many targets of scientific inquiry, the class of material referred to as the kagome magnet has proven to be a source of both frustration and amazement. Further revealing the quantum properties of the kagome magnet ...

How ice particles promote the formation of radicals

December 7, 2018

The production of chlorofluorocarbons, which damage the ozone layer, has been banned as far as possible. However, other substances can also tear holes in the ozone layer in combination with ice particles, such as those found ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.