Article Source:  University of Utah

Abstract: Making use of an inexpensive micro-thin surgical needle and laser light, engineers have discovered a minimally invasive and inexpensive way to take high-resolution pictures of an animal brain, a process that also could lead to a much less invasive method for humans.

Complete Article:

Making use of just an inexpensive micro-thin surgical needle and laser light, a group of engineers from the University of Utah has discovered a minimally invasive and inexpensive way to capture high-resolution pictures of an animal brain.  The engineers believe that this process could also play a role in the development of a much less invasive method for humans. The team also reported that the same process works on mice and the medical researchers could derive a significant benefit from it by studying neurological disorders such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and aggression.

Mouse-Cells

An image of cells taken inside a mouse brain using a new minimally invasive and inexpensive method to take high-resolution pictures of the brain. 

Rajesh Menon, electrical and computer engineering associate professor, University of Utah led the research. He worked along with the Univerisity of Utah’s renowned Nobel-winning researcher, Distinguished Professor of Biology and Human Genetics Mario Capecchi, and Jason Shepherd, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy. The engineers have recently documented the process in a paper titled, “Deep-brain imaging via epifluorescence Computational Cannula Microscopy,” in the latest issue of open access Scientific Reports with Ganghun Kim, doctoral student as the paper’s lead author.

The process, called “computational cannula microscopy,” makes use of a needle, about a quarter-millimeter in diameter which is then inserted into the brain. Making use of a suitable lens, laser light is targeted which shines through the needle into the brain, illuminating certain cells “like a flashlight.” Further, the light is captured from the glowing cells by the needle and recorded by a standard camera. The captured light is allowed to run through a sophisticated algorithm developed by Menon and his team, which assembles the scattered light waves into a 2D or potentially, even a 3D picture.

In the context of the research, the lead researcher Menon says,“In the case of mice, researchers genetically modify the animals so that only the cells they want to see glow under this laser light.”

Typically researchers must surgically take a sample of the animal’s brain to examine the cells under a microscope, or they use an endoscope that can be anywhere from 10 to 100 times thicker than a needle. “That’s very damaging,” says Menon of the methods of examining the brain previously. “What we have done is to take a surgical needle that’s really tiny and easily put it into the brain as deep as we want and see very clear high-resolution images. This technique is particularly useful for looking deep inside the brain where other techniques fail.”

As the process has now been proven to work in animals, Menon believes that the same process could also be developed for human patients, creating a much simpler, less expensive and invasive method than endoscopes.

The engineers believe that this process could also play a role in the development of a much less invasive method for humans.

According to the researcher, “Although it’s much more complex from a regulatory standpoint, it can be done in humans, and not just in the brain, but for other organs as well. He further adds, “But our motivation for this project right now is to look inside the brain of the mouse and further develop the technique to understand fundamental neuroscience in the mouse brain.”

Journal Reference:

Ganghun Kim, Naveen Nagarajan, Elissa Pastuzyn, Kyle Jenks, Mario Capecchi, Jason Shepherd, Rajesh Menon. Deep-brain imaging via epi-fluorescence Computational Cannula MicroscopyScientific Reports, 2017; 7: 44791 DOI: 10.1038/srep44791