3d images

Researchers are retrofitting microscopes to take real-time 3D images of cells

There’s a limit to what you can learn about cells from 2D images, but creating 3D images is a time-consuming process. Now, scientists at UT Southwestern have developed a new “simple and inexpensive” device capable of capturing multi-angle photos that can be retrofitted to existing lab microscopes. The team claims their solution – which involves inserting a unit of two rotating mirrors in front of a microscope’s camera – is 100 times faster than converting 2D images to 3D.

Currently, this process involves collecting hundreds of photos of a specimen that can be downloaded as an image stack into graphics software, which then performs calculations to provide multiple viewing perspectives. Even with a powerful computer, these two steps can take time. But, using their optical device, the team found they could circumvent this method altogether.

Additionally, they claim that their approach is even faster because it only requires a single camera exposure instead of the hundreds of camera images used for entire 3D image stacks. They discovered the technique by off-axis images captured by two common light sheet microscopes. While experimenting with their optical method, they realized that when they used the incorrect amount of straightening, the projected image appeared to rotate.

“It was aha moment!” said Reto Fiolka, assistant professor in the Lyda Hill Department of Bioinformatics at UT Southwestern. “We realized that this could be more than just a method of optical misalignment; that the system could also work for other types of microscopes.”

Using their modified microscope, the team imaged calcium ions carrying signals between nerve cells in a culture dish and examined the circulatory system of a zebrafish embryo. They also quickly imaged moving cancer cells and a beating zebrafish heart. They also applied the optical unit to other microscopes, including confocal light sheet and spinning disk microscopy.

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