Early warning signs

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This year’s Heinrich Wieland Prize recognized Harvard University professor Xiaowei Zhuang for her lab’s development of stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM), a technology that continues to bear fruit in the life sciences. Researchers have been using the superresolution method for more than 15 years, along with other techniques that break the Abbe limit, to improve their understanding of cellular functioning and interactions. Because researchers using STORM in the lab are capturing structural features at a molecular level that can provide early warning signs of disease, the technology shows great promise to become an effective diagnostic tool for clinicians.

Christoph Boehringer, chairman of the executive committee of the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation, which awarded the prize, said STORM has enabled a greater understanding of the structure of nerve cells in a variety of organisms. STORM is a single-molecule localization technique in which a subset of labeled fluorescent molecules are activated by laser light while others remain dark. By utilizing a software algorithm that plots point spread functions, the method captures the spatial context of proteins in tissue that can point to the aggregation of disease.

In my cover story, I explore variations of the technology — such as direct STORM (dSTORM), in which powerful lasers excite fluorescence without the need for tandem dyes — and what the techniques have revealed in research labs. My article also covers the innovative work being performed in the lab of Yang Liu at the University of Pittsburgh, where the imaging of chromatin compaction is providing valuable insights into how cancer forms. Click here.

Elsewhere in this edition of BioPhotonics, Nachiket Kulkarni and Dongkyun Kang write about reflectance confocal microscopy, which has traditionally been used to image the skin and cornea, and how it has become increasingly portable and miniaturized. The authors discuss experimental endoscopic devices developed with custom miniature objective lenses. The devices can be integrated into a smartphone, which can be used to image internal organs as well as store the images and the data they contain. These advancements could open the door to using portable reflectance confocal microscopy in all kinds of environments. For more information, click here.

In another feature, Matthew Köse-Dunn traces the history of scientific cameras and the camera-makers’ continued improvements to sensitivity, resolution, speed, and field of view. The progressive development of sensor technology began with the CCD, which led to the EMCCD, and then to the sCMOS and back-illuminated sCMOS. With the increasing ability of these cameras to capture complex cellular processes, the devices are helping scientists to explore dynamic systems, such as those in the brain that govern the progression of neural signaling. Read more about how these advancements in scientific cameras are benefiting scientists here.

Finally, Akshay Pulavarty advocates for increasing diversity in the recruitment process for clinical trials in cosmetic dermatology (for treatments such as laser therapy, for example) to include more people from ethnic and racial minority groups. As minority populations in the U.S. grow, he says, researchers need to expand their recruitment efforts by using community-based outreach, both to help ensure the health and safety of all ethnic groups and to gain understanding of the different aesthetic preferences among various populations. Read Pulavarty’s “Biopinion” column here.

Enjoy the issue!

Published: November 2022

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