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If clinical trials affirm the instruments' value in humans, the researchers say, the scopes could one day reduce our dependence on invasive biopsies for diagnosing cancer and other diseases.
"These tools are able to look into organs, such as the bile duct, pancreas and lungs, giving us a faster and safer way to diagnose a variety of diseases," says Xingde Li, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Paper - Nov - Light - Science - Applications
In a paper published Nov. 3 in Light: Science & Applications, the investigators described the development of an advanced miniature two-photon endomicroscope that uses cells' native ability to fluoresce, or "glow," without the use of injected dyes to gather cellular structural images and functional information on the metabolic status of the organs they populate.
"Getting label-free images is important because the chemicals traditionally used to label biopsy samples in a lab could be harmful if used directly inside the human body," says Li.
Fluorescence - Emission - Energy - Molecules - Electrons
Fluorescence is the emission of energy from molecules as their electrons move from an "excited" state back down to their normal energy levels, called the ground state. Just as neon highlighters glow under a UV lamp, animal cells can fluoresce and provide real-time information on their activity and function.
To exploit this ability, Li and his team developed an endomicroscopic probe that uses a technique known as two-photon imaging -- the current workhorse of laboratory imaging for tissue samples -- in which two photons of light are simultaneously absorbed by a molecule to cause it to fluoresce.
Microscopy - Technology - Li - Team - Capabilities
To miniaturize this microscopy technology, Li and his team needed to condense the capabilities of a benchtop two-photon microscope into a probe only about 2 mm in diameter. "We couldn't simply shrink the microscope that has dozens of distinct bulky parts, so we started a new design from scratch," says Li.
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