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Moving to NIR offers medical imaging breakthrough

Until five years ago the biomedical imaging technique of optical projection tomography (OPT) could only be used on relatively small preparations. However, Professor Ulf Ahlgren and his associates at the Umeå Center for Molecular Medicine (UCMM) have been able to adapt the technology to study whole organs including the pancreas from adult mice. The present findings describe a further development of the OPT technology by going from visible light to the near infrared, which can more easily penetrate tissue. This has made studies of considerably larger samples possible, including the rat pancreas, which is important because rats as laboratory animals are thought to be physiologically more similar to humans.

Imaging with NIR also makes it possible to study more and different cell types in one organ preparation. In the article the scientists exemplify the possibility of simultaneously tracking the insulin-producing islets of Langerhans as well as the autoimmune infiltrating cells and the distribution of blood vessels in a model system for type-1 diabetes.

Internationally, huge resources are being committed to the development of non-invasive imaging methods for study of the number of remaining insulin cells in patients with developing diabetes. Such methods would be of great importance, as only indirect methods for this exist today. However, a major problem in these research undertakings is to find suitable contrast agents that specifically bind to the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas to allow imaging. In this context, the developed NIR-OPT technology can play an important role as it enables the evaluation of new contrast agents. It may also be used as a tool to calibrate the non-invasive read out by, for example, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This is now going to be tested in the newly launched Marie Curie project “European Training Network for Excellence in Molecular Imaging in Diabetes”, which links together five major EU-funded research consortia with different skills in the field.

The study is presented in the Journal of Visualized Experiments, which offers the video format for publication. Visualisation in video presentations clearly facilitates the understanding and description of complex experimental technologies. It can help address two major challenges facing bioscience research: the low transparency and poor reproducibility of biological experiments and the large amounts of time and work needed to learn new experimental technologies.

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