Travel just one millimeter inside the brain and you'll be stepping into the dark.
Standard light microscopes don't allow researchers to look into the interior of the living brain, where memories are formed and diseases such as dementia and cancer can take their toll.
But Stanford scientists have devised a new method that not only lets them peer deep inside the brain to examine its neurons but also allows them to continue monitoring for months.
The technique promises to improve understanding of both the normal biology and diseased states of this hidden tissue.
Other recent advances in micro-optics had enabled scientists to take a peek at cells of the deep brain, but their observations captured only a momentary snapshot of the microscopic changes that occur over months and years with aging and illness.
The Stanford development appears online Jan. 16 in the journal Nature Medicine. It also will appear in the February 2011 print edition.
Scientists study many diseases of the deep brain using mouse models, mice that have been bred or genetically engineered to have diseases similar to human afflictions.
"Researchers will now be able to study mouse models in these deep areas in a way that wasn't available before," said senior author Mark Schnitzer, associate professor of biology and of applied physics.
Because light microscopy can only penetrate the outermost layer of tissues, any region of the brain deeper than 700 microns or so (about 1/32 of an inch) cannot be reached by traditional microscopy techniques. Recent advances in micro-optics had allowed scientists to briefly peer deeper into living tissues, but it was nearly impossible to return to the same location of the brain and it was very likely that the tissue of interest would become damaged or infected.
With the new method, "Imaging is possible over a very long time without damaging the region of interest," said Juergen
|Contact: Louis Bergeron|