X-ray histotomography offers new insight into diseases

A new three-dimensional (3D) tissue imaging technique can help scientists noninvasively study cells and may lead to improved treatments for a variety of diseases, according to research published in eLife.

Keith Cheng, MD, PhD, with Penn State College of Medicine, along with x-ray imaging physicists at the University of Chicago tested their technique—which is based off CT scanning principles—on the tissue of a zebrafish.

Their new method—x-ray histotomography—avoids the pitfalls of traditional histology, according to the researchers, which typically results in tissue loss and distortion that can lead to incomplete sampling and low-quality images.

“The quantitative and objective measurements made possible by histotomography could potentially allow us to distinguish between subtypes of cancer and other diseases that presently look the same using traditional histology so that they may be more appropriately treated,” Cheng said, in a Penn State news release.

Cheng and colleagues worked on their technique for a decade, combining the fundamentals of human CT scanning and histology. He explained the method in further detail in the release.

“X-ray histotomography uses the same principles as a human CT scan,” Cheng explained. “CT involves shooting a series of X-rays of a subject, each at a slightly different angle. A computer program then uses the set of x-rays to create a 3D image.”

Now, according to Cheng, clinicians can analyze cellular features like 3D shape, volume, location and number of cells that traditional histology doesn’t not allow for. It also does not require pathologists to cut a single tissue out of the sample. Instead, specialists can study a full tissue sample after it has been stained and prepared.

While the “beauty and complexity of the tissue I saw was mind-bending,” Cheng said of the images published in the June 11 study, future research will involve increasing resolution, analytical power and accessibility.