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New Bioimaging Technique Accurately Tracks Multiple In Vivo Interactions

Photonics.com
Aug 2017
TROY, N.Y., Aug. 23, 2017 — A new approach to optical imaging makes it possible to quickly and economically monitor multiple molecular interactions in a large area of living tissue. This technology could have applications in medical diagnosis, guided surgery or preclinical drug testing.

A new method quickly, economically, and accurately tracks multiple in vivo interactions.
A new method quickly, economically and accurately tracks multiple in vivo interactions. Courtesy of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The method, created by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), is capable of simultaneously tracking 16 colors of spatially linked information over an area spanning several centimeters; it can capture interactions that occur in mere billionths of a second.

"We have developed a smart way to acquire a massive amount of information in a short period of time," said Xavier Intes, a professor of biomedical engineering at RPI. "Our approach is faster and less expensive than existing technology without any compromise in the precision of the data we acquire."

Optical imaging uses light to investigate a target. In biomedical applications, optical imaging has many advantages over techniques such as MRI and PET, which use magnetism and positron emissions to acquire images inside of living tissue.

The method the RPI lab developed makes use of advanced optical imaging techniques — fluorescence lifetime imaging paired with Forster resonance energy transfer — to reveal the molecular state of tissues. In fluorescence lifetime imaging (FLIM), molecules of interest are tagged with fluorescent "reporter" molecules that, when excited by a beam of light, emit a light signal with a certain color over time that is indicative of their immediate environment. Reporter molecules can be tuned to offer information on environmental factors such as viscosity, pH, or the presence of oxygen. FLIM is ideal for the thick tissues of a body because it relies on time information, rather than light intensity, which degrades significantly as it travels through tissue. Researchers also used Forster resonance energy transfer (FRET), which determines close proximity between two similarly tagged molecules based on an energy transfer that occurs only when the tagged molecules are delivered into the diseased cells for maximal therapeutically efficacy.

While the FLIM-FRET method generates a signal rich in information, collecting that signal quickly and economically is problematic. Current methods rely on expensive cameras, which can image only one reporter at a time, and scanning the subject can take hours as the camera collects information from its full field of vision.

To overcome this obstacle, the researchers dispensed with cameras and instead used a single-pixel detection method combined with a mathematical sampling technique that allowed them to collect sufficient relevant information in 10 minutes to construct a precise image. The detection method can collect information on 16 spectral channels simultaneously, and three detection devices positioned around the sample provided spatial information used to construct a three-dimensional image.

"This is a new platform, a new option in macroscopy, and we think it will have traction in multiple applications in the biomedical arena," said Intes.

The RPI research has been published in the journal Nature Photonics (doi: 10.1038/nphoton.2017.82).

Research & TechnologyeducationsAmericasbiophotonicsimagingcamerasRensselaer Polytechnic InstituteFLIM-FRETXavier Intes

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