21 August 2014
To see what’s going on inside organs and tissues, researchers usually slice them up, photograph each sliver, and use the images to create a three-dimensional reconstruction. That’s all rather tedious and the results aren’t very accurate. It would be better to make organs transparent, but there’s a problem: the waxy molecules called lipids that block the passage of light through cells also provide structure. Remove lipids and tissues collapse. Unless you can find a structural substitute, that is. Working in dead mice, researchers replaced dissolved lipids with a transparent gel that provides support without blocking the view. And once organs are rendered see-through, it’s easy enough to map cells marked with dyes or fluorescent proteins. Pictured is a snapshot of stained intestinal glands from a mouse made transparent with the new technique. In future, it could be used to diagnose diseases, including the detection of cancer cells in biopsies.
Written by Daniel Cossins