Scientists have developed a new generation of custom-built microscopes that significantly improve brain tissue imaging, an advance that could help find better treatment for patients with paralysis.
The microscopes, known as mesoSPIMs—short for 'mesoscale selective plane-illumination microscopes'—can image brain tissues down to the minute details of individual neurons which are five times thinner than a human hair, the study noted.
The researchers added that they can uncover the 3D anatomy of entire small organs, faster than ever before using the new microscope.
The mesoSPIM is a light-sheet microscope, which unlike traditional microscopes—where specimens are cut in slices with a blade to view in a microscope slide—uses a sheet of light to slice the samples into ultra-thin sections, the study noted.
According to the researchers, this helps scientists capture slivers of image in the samples without damaging it.
The images from the slices, the researchers say, are then combined to reconstruct the detailed three-dimensional image of the sample.
The problem with standard light-sheet microscopes, according to the researchers, is that the data sets they produce are huge and analysing them consumes a lot of time.
MesoSPIM, on the other hand, allows fast scanning as well as direct visualization of the captured data, the study noted.
According to the researchers, this makes the microscope suitable for screening large numbers of samples in a very short time, producing high-resolution images.
Researchers trying to restore movement in patients with paralysis, or investigating neuronal networks involved in cognition, pleasure, or drug addiction can use MesoSPIMs to get new insights into the brain and spinal cord organization, the study, published in the journal Nature Methods, noted.
The researchers said that top European neuroscientists were driving the open-source dissemination of mesoSPIMs globally by sharing their expertise and excitement as well as the images and videos they took using the new microscope.
"We created the open-source mesoSPIM Initiative to share the latest developments in microscope instrumentation and software with the imaging community," said Fabian Voigt of the Brain Research Institute at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.
Voigt added that anyone seeking high-quality anatomical data from large samples can now possess the information needed to build and operate their own mesoSPIM.
Stephane Pages from Centre Medical Universitaire in Switzerland told PTI in an email that the only requirement for the global dissemination of mesoSPIM was to have local human resources build, maintain, and adapt the systems to the local needs.
"The technology behind the microscope is completely open-source and the overall price of a mesoSPIM is affordable enough to allow any lab interested to built its own," said Pages, a co-author of the study.
The researchers mentioned that there are currently seven mesoSPIMs in operation across Europe and several more instruments under construction.