Molecular imaging of collagen to build on CT’s ‘slices’ approach

Can the image-reconstruction principle behind computed tomography lend itself to rendering the most abundant protein in humans—collagen—in 3D at the molecular level? It surely can, according to researchers who are working on bringing the science and engineering about. has the word from Paul Campagnola, PhD, senior author of a study running in the October edition of Optica. He and his colleagues have “provided the experimental and computational framework for assembling 2D collagen images, taken from multiple angles around the tissue sample, into a moderate-resolution 3D view, similar to the familiar CT scan of human organs,” according to reporter Silke Schmidt.

The technique involves a 3D printing device that holds a tube attached to a small motor and sits on the stage of an upright microscope. Then comes image reconstruction by algorithm leading to something called “second harmonic generation tomography” from numerous 2D slices.

The team’s hope is to inform treatment decisions for cancer and other conditions in which the molecular composition of collagen is affected.

“If we can build a large enough patient database with both images and clinical outcomes, physicians can eventually choose chemotherapy or other treatments based on the 3D collagen structure in a patient's own tissue—which is the kind of precision medicine that can really make a difference in treatment success,” Campagnola says.

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