Concept art showing plasmon-enhanced phase microscopy. This new method will...
Concept art showing plasmon-enhanced phase microscopy. This new method will enable ultra-sensitive imaging of highly optically transparent objects in fields ranging from materials science to medical imaging.
Source: La Trobe University

How to make the invisible visible

Scientists have discovered a new way to analyse microscopic cells, tissues and other transparent specimens, through the improvement of an almost 100-year-old imaging technique.

La Trobe University researchers have led a four-year collaboration to make "the invisible visible" by using custom-designed nanomaterials to enhance the sensitivity of phase contrast microscopy, an imaging technique commonly used by scientists to study biological specimens.

The discovery will benefit a broad range of researchers and has the potential to advance research into the understanding and detection of disease.

Project leader and La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS) physicist, Professor Brian Abbey, said the discovery allows scientists to detect minute changes in the composition or structure of transparent or nano-thin objects, enabling their key features and structures to be visible when put under a microscope.

"Features that were previously impossible to detect using conventional techniques can now be imaged using our microscopy method, developed by lead author and La Trobe Senior Research Fellow Dr. Eugeniu Balaur," Professor Abbey said. "It has allowed our teams to delve deeper into the identification of early destructive processes in neurodegenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis."

Phase contrast microscopy, an optical technique that can be utilized to produce high-contrast images of transparent specimens, was first invented in 1934 by Nobel-prize winning physicist Frits Zernike. "This technique allows scientists to examine cells in their natural state without previously being stained or labeled. As a result, their structure and function—and perhaps even their dynamics—can be better understood," Professor Abbey said. "We now have the tools to manipulate matter at the nanoscale. Our custom designed nanomaterials have enabled us to achieve a huge leap forward in terms of image quality and contrast, building on the groundbreaking phase work of Zernike in the 1930s."

La Trobe neuroscientist and study co-author Dr. Jacqueline Orian said the research team is working to translate the study to ensure their new microscopy technique can be utilized by scientists worldwide. "A major application of the technique would be in the evaluation of candidate drugs for promotion of repair to nerves and their protective casings known as myelin," Dr. Orian said.

"The technique the team developed enables us to perform label-free imaging of cellular structures with exceptional contrast and in their natural state. Coupling nanotechnology with phase contrast microscopy lays the foundation for entirely new fields of research and represents a significant leap forward for the life sciences," Dr. Nicholas Anthony, study co-author from the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) said.

The research was published in Nature Photonics.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related articles

Portable hybrid gamma camera should improve cancer diagnosis

Portable hybrid gamma camera should improve cancer diagnosis

Scientists have designed a portable 3D imaging device which will improve the treatment and diagnosis of cancer.

Microfluidics and AI microscopy measure hemoglobin

Microfluidics and AI microscopy measure hemoglobin

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science and SigTuple Technologies have developed a method to measure hemoglobin levels in small-volume blood samples.

An on-chip printed 'electronic nose'

An on-chip printed 'electronic nose'

Researchers have designed an on-chip printed 'electronic nose' that serves as a proof of concept for low-cost and sensitive devices to be used in healthcare.

Rapid POCT for opioids in the bloodstream

Rapid POCT for opioids in the bloodstream

Point-of-care electrochemical sensors using revolutionary nanocarbon technology can rapidly test for opioid concentrations in the bloodstream.

COVID-19 speeds up microfluidics development

COVID-19 speeds up microfluidics development

With soaring demand for point-of-care testing (POCT), microfluidics has been a pivotal resource as COVID-19 swept across the world.

3D printed micro-scale fluid channels

3D printed micro-scale fluid channels

Researchers have 3D printed unique fluid channels at the micron scale that could automate production of diagnostics, sensors, and assays used for a variety of medical tests and other applications.

Graphene used to built ultrasensitive biosensors

Graphene used to built ultrasensitive biosensors

Graphene-base device could detect disease biomarkers at the molecular level and lead to new sensor technology.

Tiny implant for imaging of brain activity

Tiny implant for imaging of brain activity

Researchers used nanophotonic technology to develop a brain-implantable tool that can aid in the optical imaging of brain activity.

mhealth: savvy smartphone imaging systems

mhealth: savvy smartphone imaging systems

Development of smartphone-based imaging systems for medicine and healthcare can be optimized by newly published guidelines for holistic assessment.

Popular articles

Subscribe to Newsletter