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Superresolution Microscopy Platform Lets Researchers 'Step Inside' Data

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A team from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) is working to combine two techniques, expansion microscopy and virtual reality (VR), to create a method, via a platform called ExMicroVR, that will allow researchers to “step inside” biological data. By combining these techniques, the researchers will have the opportunity to enlarge, explore, and analyze cell structures beyond the limits of traditional microscopy.

Professor Yongxin (Leon) Zhao has been developing the expansion microscopy technique to physically magnify a biopsy, allowing researchers to see fine details in biological samples using standard microscopes.

Expansion microscopy works by making biopsy samples physically grow in size to overcome the  limitations of standard microscopes. The samples are chemically transformed into water-soluble hydrogels, which are then given a treatment that loosens the tissues, allowing the sample to expand more than 100× in volume. This allows researchers to overcome the diffraction limit without costly specialized microscopes.

One limit of the technology, however, is that it extracts two to three orders of magnitude more data than current techniques are capable of interpreting. To overcome this challenge, the team will turn to Tom Skillman, BRI’s former director of research technology, who founded a VR company called Immersive Science that specializes in scientific applications.

“Bringing all that data into VR not only allows the scientist to see their 2D microscope images in full 3D, but to interact with their data — selecting channels, adjusting their views, colors and contrast, and grabbing and rotating the images to quickly identify key aspects of the image that are coupled back to the disease under study,” Skillman said.

The eventual goal is for the VR tool to be shared on open platforms with other researchers. The platform is intended to be affordable and easily accessible. The development of the tool is funded by a $200,000 Grand Challenges grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 


Photonics Spectra
Sep 2019
expansion microscopysuperresolutionMicroscopyVRvirtual realityCarnegie MellonBenaroya Research InstituteVirginia MasonTech Pulse

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