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Hyperspectral Analysis Distinguishes Cells

SYDNEY, April 17, 2014 — Hyperspectral imaging (HSI) may soon expand its portfolio beyond mineralogy and food safety testing.

Human embryonic stem cells can be analyzed using the new HSI-based technique. Images courtesy of PLOS Biology.

A new label-free technique, developed by a team from Macquarie University, distinguishes all types of cells using only the natural autofluorescence of biological tissue, rather than biomarkers and staining compounds. This represents a significant step toward the precise characterization of stem and other types of cells, and could potentially enhance medical treatments.

The wide variety of cell types can present identification challenges. Past characterization techniques have proven challenging, too, as they are traditionally slow and inefficient.

The team used a CCD camera to detect cells’ autofluorescence. The high-throughput technique requires at least 11 LED sources that emit at wavelengths between 290 and 450 nm. Through discriminant analysis of the autofluorescence response, the researchers were able to distinguish between different types of cells that are associated with various diseases.

Neurons derived from embryonic stem cells.

The new technique has been used to analyze the olfactory neurosphere cells in the nose showing signs of the mitochondrial disease MELAS. Treatment caused the fluorescence response of these cells to change in a detectable manner, which supports the use of fluorescence in biotechnology applications, said Macquarie professor Dr. Ewa Goldys, a lead researcher in the study and founder of the Light in Life Sciences Foundation.

"By using HSI we can distinguish between healthy and treated cells," she said. "We confirmed that the treatment had worked."

The new method has also been tried in analyzing breast and pancreatic cancer cell development, and has shown promise in accurately determining the perimeters of malignant tumors for better-targeted treatment.

The coupling of HSI and discriminant analysis could also become a key component in stem cell research, Goldys said, as the new approach has been able to discern several types of cells. In their experiments, the researchers have been able to determine which of the cell types could become bone tissue and which could become fibroblasts.

Moving forward with this research, Goldys said the team plans to extend the range of fluorescence excitation wavelengths further into the ultraviolet spectrum.

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