Innovation enables better visualization and interpretation of data from cell microscopy
A combined research team from Carnegie Mellon University and Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason is pairing a nanoscale imaging technique with virtual reality technology to create a method that allows researchers to “step inside” their biological data.
By combining the technique, called expansion microscopy, with virtual reality (VR), scientists will be able to enlarge, explore and analyze cell structures far beyond the capabilities of traditional light microscopy.
The development of these technologies, a two-step process funded at $200,000 through Grand Challenges, an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will accelerate researchers’ understanding of infectious and autoimmune diseases and enhance their ability to develop disease diagnostics and prevention and treatment methods.
Yongxin (Leon) Zhao, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Carnegie Mellon’s Mellon College of Science, has been developing the expansion microscopy technique to physically magnify a biopsy, allowing researchers to see fine details in biological samples using standard microscopes.
Zhao makes biopsy samples grow in size by chemically transforming them into water-soluble hydrogels. He then applies a treatment that loosens the tissues and allows them to expand more than 100 times in volume. The tissues and molecules within the sample can then be labeled, imaged and compiled into a complex set of data, to be used to study interactions among cells and their structures.
However, a limitation of the technology is that it extracts 2-3 orders of magnitudes more data than current techniques are able to interpret. To help solve that problem, the Gates Foundation grant pairs expansion microscopy with a virtual reality technique developed at the Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI).
Through VR technology developed specifically for the purpose, researchers will be able to see and manipulate the originally 2D expansion microscopy images in 3D, giving them a 360 degree view of tissue and protein organizations and interactions.