X-ray fiber diffraction may ID structural tissue changes in heart, brain

A specialized x-ray diffraction lab at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago is using fiber diffraction, allowing scientists to study structural tissue changes in the human heart, brain and even in dinosaur fossils. The technique may help physicians track injury-related tissue damage and identify risk areas, according to an American Crystallographic Association release published July 22.  

The research, which specifically looks at type I collagen in bones, tissues and ligaments, was presented at the 68th Annual Meeting of the American Crystallographic Association on July 22 in Toronto, Canada by lead author Joseph Orgel, PhD, an associate professor of biology and biomedical engineering at IIT.  

By shining an x-ray beam at a sample, researchers can measure the beam's diffracted angles and intensities to create an image of the molecular structure, internal symmetry and crystalline properties, according to the release. 

“[X-ray diffraction] is an extraordinarily powerful approach because it can take a sample without having to modify it or shave it down. You are able to take most samples as they are, put them in the x-ray beam, and then, diffract it,” Orgel said, in a prepared statement. “It gives you a non-artifact-inducing facility to see what’s going on. It also enables you to visualize large molecular structures."  

Orgel's x-ray diffraction research has also produced some controversial results, by showing "an abundant quantity of crystalline-organized tissue components from … what is essentially thought to be a rock, a dinosaur fossil. Orgel explained that paleontologists have yet to reach a conclusion about the findings due to its upset of long standing paradigms in paleontology.