Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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New clearing technique allows 3D imaging of whole organs and tumours

24 April 2019

Duct Tape

Breast cancers often develop from changes inside a single cell, but examining the early stages of a tumour forming – tumorigenesis – is challenged by messy chemicals that block the laser light used by high-powered microscopes. Here a new 'clearing' technique washes these away leaving an intact mouse breast duct behind. Assembling several images together into a 3D model, we can now fly through the duct, inspecting the insides like an engineer or an architect might explore a tunnel looking for tiny flaws, although 100,000 times smaller. Coloured fluorescence highlights cells in different layers of the breast tissue – in early cancers, some of these cells may change into mesenchymal cells, helping a cancer to evolve and spread. Combining microscopy with other techniques to assess genetic changes may help to spot breast cells more prone to becoming cancerous, leading to earlier and more effective treatment.

Written by John Ankers

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