Mapping neurological disorders just got easier.
Last week, a research team from Stanford University unveiled a method in Nature Medicine that allows long term, real time—and, best of all, 3D—viewing of living brain tissue. While some similar techniques already exist, the development by Stanford is unique in that it allows researchers to see high resolution images of the brain, at any depth, without doing significant harm to the penetrated tissue region.
The technique involves the insertion of a guide tube into the brain at a pre-set depth, with the top portion of the tube raised out of the skull. The tubes themselves have a property called Total Internal Reflection (TIR), that allows light from the brain to be refracted through the tubes and into a laser scanning light microscope. Because the tubes are sterilized, they can be left in place indefinitely while the researchers monitor the long term progression of neurological disease. The candidate for the first test was Glioma, a deadly neurodegenerative disease rarely studied with the mouse model. Using a line of infected mice, researchers could create a time-line of disease progression, from zero day to death.
The stunning 3D resolution generated by the microscopy is the first of its kind; safe, effective and reliable, this technique may generate a more refined understanding of many neurological disorders, with an emphasis on cerebrovascular disease and epilepsy. Of course, Fluorescene Microendoscopy, while intriguing, is not a silver bullet. Because of limits on the microscope, dendrites are still the only structure that can be effectively viewed. Meanwhile, more comprehensive clinical trial results must be examined before the technique can be used on human subjects. Nonetheless, the technique represents a paradigm shift in applied microscopy and holds significant potential for the future of neurological medicine.