It sounds like something from a Hollywood movie script but researchers have developed a specialised system to be able to see into the internal muscles and organs of a mouse’s body.
This ground breaking research was published in the Journal Nature by researchers from the Ludwig Maximilians University (LMU) of Munich and may leave you asking, ‘so what’? But it is actually quite valuable to enhancing our knowledge of brain disease and neurodegeneration.
This new process, called ‘ultimate DISCO’ or uDISCO for short, allows researchers an alternative way to trace neurons from the brain through to the spinal cord, and even fingers and toes. The research method is being hailed as a potential new way of providing extensive insights into the structure of neuronal networks and can be used to identify disruptive processes which may lead to the functional decline of the brain.
Most importantly it is completely non-invasive with no biopsies or tissue samples required.
The new imaging method is based on a ‘clearing-and-shrinkage’ procedure that can render whole organs ‘and organisms’ transparent. As the nervous system and its cells are all connected, the technique is able to identify and mark individual cells and visualise their movement through the body, simply by watching the marker travel through the body.
“Since it allows individual cells to be localised, the method could be used to detect and characterise metastatic tumours at an earlier stage than is now feasible, or to monitor how stem cells behave in the body following a bone-marrow transplant,” said Dr Ali Ertürk who leads the research group at the LMU medical centre.
The other exciting aspect is that enables researchers to map complex neuronal networks in 3D, a significant step in revealing insights into how brains work.
This method has so far only been tested on mice and rats but the research team is planning further studies to optimise the procedure for potential testing in humans down the track.