Taking 3D Images of Living Cells

Taking 3D Images of Living Cells

14 February 2013

Two young researchers at Switzerland's École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have designed a device that can create 3D images of living cells within minutes, a leap in the world of microscopy similar to the advancement from photography to live TV.

The device is being developed by Yann Cotte and Fatih Toy under the supervision of Christian Depeursinge, head of the Microvision and Microdiagnostics Group in EPFL's School of Engineering.

The new device, which combines holographic microscopy and computational image processing, enables real-time observation of living cells at the nanoscale and tracking of their reactions to any kind of stimulus without the use of contrast dyes or fluorescents, thus removing the risk of results being distorted by the presence of foreign substances.

With the device, 3D images of living biological tissues can be taken at an extremely precise resolution of less than 100 nanometers, 1000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. This opens up new opportunities, such as examining the effects of pharmaceutical substances at the scale of an individual cell, Cotte explains.

In Nature Photonics this month the researchers demonstrate their method by developing, image by image, the film of a growing neuron and the birth of a synapse, caught over the course of an hour at a rate of one image per minute. They used a low-intensity laser technique that minimizes the influence of heat or light on the cell, thus allowing observation of the cell while keeping it alive for a long time.

The two young scientists, who have received an EPFL Innogrant, are planning to step up their research after this promising start. They are setting up a company in partnership with the start-up Lyncee SA to develop a system that could deliver such observations in-vivo, without the need for removing tissue, through the use of portable devices.