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Microscopic brain imaging in the palm of your hand

New portable device captures pictures beneath the living brain's surfaceResearchers at Stanford University have demonstrated a promising, minimally invasive optical technique that can capture micron-scale images from deep in the brains of live subjects. The method, called two-photon microendoscopy, combines a pair of powerful optical and mechanical techniques into one device that fits in the palm of the hand. The results appear in the September 1, 2005 issue of Optics Letters, a journal published by the Optical Society of America.

Researchers want to image individual cells inside living subjects because it will give them insight into how cellular behavior gives rise to the properties of organisms as a whole. For instance, the nerve cells of the hippocampus region of the brain give rise to important mental processes such as learning and memory.

Imaging living cells below the surface has been difficult to accomplish using conventional techniques. Electron microscopy can't be used on living tissue, and optical (light) microscopy can't penetrate very deeply into tissue because light scatters as it travels through tissue near the surface. Thus traditionally microscopic images of the living brain have only been made near the surface. Yet researchers would like to know more about certain deep-tissue areas of the brain, which are critical to understanding Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, for example.

Scientists often use some form of fluorescence microscopy to image tissue. In conventional "one-photon" fluorescence imaging, the scientist injects a dye into tissue and then shines a bright light. The tissue fluoresces, or radiates, light of a different color in response. However, a problem with one-photon fluorescence is that the deep tissue causes the photons to ricochet, or scatter, as they return to the detector. The result is a background haze in the images, almost like viewing the sample through a cloud.

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Source:American Institute of Physics


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