University of Washington researchers have helped develop a new kind of microscope to visualize cells in three dimensions, an advance that could improve early cancer detection. The technique could also bridge a widening gap between cutting-edge imaging techniques used in research and clinical practices.

Known by the trademarked name Cell-CT, the microscope works similarly to a CT-scan - though on a very small scale, and using visible light instead of X-rays. In the Cell-CT microscope, each cell is embedded in a special gel inside a glass tube that rotates in front of a fixed camera that takes many pictures per rotation. The images are then digitally combined to form a single 3-D image. The gel has similar optical properties to the tube, so that no light reflects off the glass.

Eric Seibel, a University of Washington mechanical engineering associate professor, and his colleagues collaborated with VisionGate Inc., Gig Harbor, WA, to develop the microscope. According to Seibel, the microscope will make it easier to more accurately match an image taken using the fluorescent dyes with an image taken using the traditional stains that form the basis of current cancer diagnoses. "Now that we have a way to compare these stains, we hope this will provide a way to get some of those sophisticated research techniques into clinical use," Seibel said.

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