Mapping the inner workings of a living cell
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VIDEO: As sweat glands cells turn over, older cells are gradually pushed to the center of the glands and expelled from the body. Here, deuterium-labeled SRS imaging highlighted newly made lipids at… view more 

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Imaging tools like X-rays and MRI have revolutionized medicine by giving doctors a close up view of the brain and other vital organs in living, breathing people. Now, Columbia University researchers report a new way to zoom in at the tiniest scales to track changes within individual cells.

Described in the latest issue of Nature Communications, the tool combines a widely used chemical tracer, D2O, or heavy water, with a relatively new laser-imaging method called stimulated Raman scattering (SRS). The technique’s potential applications include helping surgeons quickly and precisely remove tumors, to helping to detect head injuries and developmental and metabolic disorders.

“We can use this technology to visualize metabolic activities in a wide range of animals,” said the study’s senior author Wei Min, a chemistry professor at Columbia University. “By tracking where and when new proteins, lipids and DNA molecules are made, we can learn more about how animals develop and age, and what goes wrong in the case of injury and disease.”

The breakthrough involves

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