"This lets us see not only how but where" the body is responding to disease, Witte explained. "The immune system resides throughout the body, and it is not going to be responding the same everywhere."
Moreover, a whole-body perspective, Witte said, may be especially useful as new therapies designed to modulate the immune system in response to disease become available. At present, there are very few tools available to follow the extent and duration of responses to such treatment.
The new approaches devised by Witte and his colleagues, can now be applied to "visualize immune cell expansion and activation (and) can be used for the evaluation and development of immunotherapies for cancer and other diseases," he said.
One intriguing possibility, according to Witte, is that these techniques could be turned to the study of autoimmune diseases, where the immune system mistakenly identifies native cells or tissues as foreign and mounts an attack.
The techniques they've developed should now enable scientists -- and one day clinicians -- to observe the ebb and flow of the immune system over the course of an episode of disease or autoimmune response, said Witte.