The new process can make an animal's body small and nearly transparent and even glow in the dark. The process could substitute live animals in future experiments
Every year, over 25 million animals are used in biomedical experiments and majority of them are rats and mice. The approach is costly and is also not as effective as one should expect.
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Now, researchers have developed a new way to look into the interior of an animal. The new process called “ultimate 3D imaging of solvent-cleared organs" (uDISCO), not only makes animals such as mice’s body transparent, but also shrinks them to a third of their original size to get an even better view of their nerves and internal organs. The nerve paths that run throughout the body can also be turned glow green using this method.
The method does not involve dissection or slicing up an animal’s body to study its internal parts, which is rather a complicated process and often yields unsatisfactory results. Therefore, uDISCO may substitute live animals for future experiments.
It takes usually four days to shrink and to make a nearly transparent 3D model of the whole animal. The animal that undergoes uDISCO is put under a microscope to provide a remarkably clear and closer look at its muscles and nervous system.
“When I saw images on the microscope that my students were obtaining, I was like ‘Wow, this is mind blowing,’” said co-author Ali Ertürk a neuroscientist from the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich in Germany. “We can map the neural connectivity in the whole mouse in 3D.”
So far, the technique has been tested on only mice and rats but scientists believe that it could one day be used to map human brain and it could prove helpful in studying diseases like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia. Researchers are finding it difficult to understand neurodegenerative disorders using existing method which involves examination of thin slices of brain tissues under a microscope. It’s not a good way to study neurons because when the brain is sliced up, it also ends up cutting a network.
“Now, for the first time, we have a powerful tool that can make the human brain transparent and reduce it size to fit an imaging microspore for mapping.” Ertürk said.
Researchers believe the process has implications for understanding nervous systems of both small and relatively large animals, especially its shrinking ability will make animals small enough to fit under a microscope and enable researchers to study organs and organisms while keeping them fully intact.