New tech helps biologists study cells in 3-D

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Most of us can remember sitting in a high school biology lab that reeked of formaldehyde and looking at various cell diagrams in preparation for an upcoming quiz or exam. Ah, the mysteries of the Golgi apparatus. And although the world of cellular biology is truly fascinating, few students in high school feel dazzled by the experience of peering into microscopes in search of 2-dimensional parameciums and amoebas swirling in squished droplets of solution on difficult to manage glass slides. Fortunately, researchers at Drexel University have developed a novel way to study cells using 3-D stereoscopic gaming glasses that are providing scientists exciting new views of cell behavior.

cell3d2Associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, Dr. Andrew Cohen is in charge of leading a team of researchers to develop new hardware and software that will help scientists gather better visual data on the movement and multiplication of cells. This technology will help scientists more easily identify and track minute changes in the physical structure of cells over time during cell replication. This technology will also provide researchers new insights into abnormal cell development and proliferation that often lead to cancer or other diseases. “This type of imaging is so important because it allows us to see and measure relationships between cells and their environment,” says Dr. Cohen.

Thanks to funding by the National Institute on Aging, Dr. Cohen has developed a program called Lineage Editing and Validation, or LEVER for short, that “can identify, tag and track live cells, capturing patterns of motion and cell division, using sequences of microscopic time-lapse images.

The results so far have been nothing short of amazing, which Dr. Cohen is eager to explain: “It’s like Photoshop for cell biologists. The software outlines cells and blood vessels, keeping track of them as they’re dividing and moving around one another. This provides a wealth of information on the patterns of cell shape, motion and division. Visualization of the 3-D microscopy data together with the analysis results is a key step to measure and ultimately understand what drives these cells.”

Now try to imagine sitting in a biology class wearing 3-D glasses and watching cells come alive on a full-sized television display. If this doesn’t excite the average high school student, then nothing will.

About Author

Kristian strives to enlighten and entertain readers. In addition to his teaching and editorial responsibilities, he is working on a science-fiction novel that promises not to include exoskeleton suits and anemic aliens floating in mysterious vats of green-tinted goop.

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