A team of scientists at Umeå University in Sweden came up with a way to create complex 3D maps of whole organs in incredible detail. The approach involves embedding a whole organ in agarose, a stiff gel matrix, and then using this support matrix to section the tissue into cm3 chunks.
These chunks are the perfect size for fluorescent antibody labeling of specific cell types and subsequent deep tissue imaging, using a technique such as optical projection tomography. Once the chunks are labeled and imaged, it is possible to stitch the images together on a computer to create a 3D map of the entire organ.
The researchers hope that the technique could reveal previously unobservable changes in diseased organs, and it allows them to track cellular changes at a whole-organ level. “This method may contribute to an advanced understanding of how cellular changes are related to different disease conditions,” said Ulf Ahlgren, one of the creators of the new method, in a press release.
So far, the researcher have used the technique to study the pancreas, using organs from human volunteers. The team compared the distribution of the hundreds of thousands of islets of Langerhans within pancreases from healthy volunteers and those with type 2 diabetes. They identified previously unknown areas that have a very high islet density, something that may be useful in improving islet transplantation techniques.
Illustration of how a pancreas can be divided into smaller parts that are labelled depending on their specific cell types using the insulin-coloured Islets of Langerhans. The parts can then be pieced together using a computer as a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle to recreate the entire human organ. Image: Max Hahn & Ulf Ahlgren
“Besides using the new method to study diabetes, it can also improve understanding of other pancreatic diseases, not least pancreatic cancers, and we have initiated collaborations with clinical researchers in Umeå to look into that,” said Ahlgren. “But the technology itself should be possible to use to study other organs and diseases in similar ways since it enables the study of where cellular changes take place in a full organ context, their amount and relationship to nearby tissues and cell types.”
Study in Communications Biology: 3D imaging of human organs with micrometer resolution – applied to the endocrine pancreas
Via: Umeå University