Capture unprecedented images of living cells in action

Two teams from the Swiss Technological Institute of Lausanne (EPFL) have discovered how to record living cells at the nanoscopic level, obtaining incredible never seen images of the processes that govern life on Earth. It is an invention that has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of how it works of our body during infection processes or even how our brain really works.

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According to the scientists – whose studies have been published in the scientific journals Nature and ACS Nano – its the first time that “live cells in action are captured with an unsurpassed level of precision”.

How does it work

Georg fanter – one of the researchers and director of the EPFL bio and nano-instrumentation laboratory – affirms that, until now, this type of observations could not be carried out because “techniques such as the electron microscope allow an unparalleled resolution of the cell surface at the nanoscale, but require [matar a las células] placing them in a vacuum and bombarding them with electroneyes. ” Another common method, he points out, is fluorescence microscopy, which allows cells to be observed without killing them but damages them and also does not have enough resolution to see the cell in three dimensions.

His method combines two other techniques that make it possible to see both the surface of the cell and its internal molecular activity without killing living cells. One is called “stochastic optical fluctuation imaging” (SOFI) and the other is called “scanning ion conductance microscopy” (SICM). The first allows record molecules and their activity within the cell. The second allows a three-dimensional map of the cell to be made by virtually touching its surface. with a flow of ions emitted from a glass nanopore. This flow of ions is capable of “Touch” the surface of the cell without touching it.

An unprecedented vision

These two techniques, they claim, allow them to observe the cell as it executes or undergoes different life processes. According to doctoral student Samuel Mendes Leitão – another of the authors of the research and developer of the SICM system – the cell membrane is where “many of the biological processes and morphological changes occur, such as when there is an infection”.

Images of processes in cells captured with the new system (EPFL)

His system, he claims, lets see what happens inside of an infected cell and at the same time observe the changes produced in the cell membrane.

According to Mendes Leitão and the developer of the optical components of the system – the candidate for doctor Vytautas Navikas – their system allows to see the processes live during periods of a fraction of a second or several days with unprecedented resolution.

A new level of detail, they say, will change the way we understand “biological infections, immunology and neurology – fields where it is important to understand how cells operate in real time to external stimuli.”


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