3-D reconstruction of a live cell using the new technology Credit: Dr Renata Rychtáriková

Looking at live cells under a microscope is a difficult task. The size and shape of samples limit the methods biologists can use to look at their materials, and even what they can examine. But a new algorithm could help researchers get a better look at living cells, with research applications from cancer treatments to IVF.

“We live in the nano-era,” says Dr Renata Rychtáriková, the paper's lead author and a researcher at the University of South Bohemia, in the Czech Republic. But, she notes, things at a nano scale are hard to see. “The majority of the nano-world escapes observation at the moment, and our information about it is only indirect.”

Current sample-studying methods, such as Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), only reveal what is happening on the surface. Samples for other methods, like transmission electron microscopy, must have a thickness between 10 and 200 nm, while a typical mammalian cell has a thickness of 3-5 μm.

To combat this, Rychtáriková and colleagues developed a way to use bright-field optical microscopes to delve deeper into objects. Their algorithm captures several images to build a 3-D map of a cell. They have published their results in the journal Ultramicroscopy.

The algorithm works by comparing two images taken at slightly different positions. It looks for parts of the cell that respond best to the light, and seeks out ones that are moving. By doing so, it helps shine a light on detailed cellular structures more effectively than previous methods. The result is a virtual 3-D model of the cell.

“The research was inspired by the biology of living mammalian cells, which is fundamental for cancer healing, organ replacement, implantology, neurology, embryology and IVF,” explains Rychtáriková. “There has been great interest from the medical community since the start of the development of our method,” she adds. And the research is attracting interest from several other sources as well.

“After the biologists, the material scientists interested in nanoprinting came forward,” says Rychtáriková. Because the algorithm allows researchers to use thicker samples, and because it only requires a common microscope, many scientists are hoping to start using it. “The interest from the application sphere far exceeds our time possibilities,” she adds.

The article was assigned by Elsevier among top 30 papers in the field of Physics for 2017.
Article details:

Rychtáriková, R., Náhlík, T., Shi, K., Malakhova, D., Macháček, P., Smaha, R., Urban, J., Štys, D. 2017. Super-resolved 3-D imaging of live cells’ organelles from bright-field photon transmission micrographs. Ultramicroscopy 179: 1-14. (IF 2015 = 2.874)




Figure capture: a) Algorithm overview, b) procedure of cell/background split, c) procedure of 3D picture reconstruction.

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