New 3D imaging technique glimpses cells and tissues functioning inside the body

A new non-invasive imaging technique allows scientists to see real-time 3D images of cells and tissues under the skin of living subjects, according to results of a study published online March 18 in Scientific Reports.

While dramatic advances in biological imaging have successfully captured cells and molecules in high detail, the ability to do so in living specimens—and in real time—has remained elusive, said senior author Adam de la Zerda, PhD, and his colleagues from Stanford University.

“We’ve been trying to look into the living body and see information at the level of the single cell,” he said in a university press release. “Until now there has been no way do that.”

The technique, called "molecular imaging and characterization of tissue noninvasively at cellular resolution," or MOZART, utilizes optical coherence tomography (OCT) and a combination of injected large gold nanorods and sophisticated monitoring algorithms to produce high-definition 3D images.

The researchers used the technique to image the lymph system and blood vessels of a mouse, which they were able to see functioning in real-time.

“Collectively, these methods enable high-quality noninvasive contrast-enhanced imaging of OCT in living subjects, including detection of tumor microvasculature at twice the depth achievable with conventional OCT,” the authors wrote. “These capabilities provide a powerful platform for molecular imaging and characterization of tissue noninvasively at cellular resolution.”

Doctors could someday use MOZART to improve the detection of tumors in the skin, colon and esophagus and to detect early signs of macular degeneration and blindness.

Read the full study here.