Researchers use fluorescent imaging to locate proteins and other molecules in cells and tissues by tagging the molecules with dyes that glow under certain kinds of light — the same principle behind “black light” images. Fluorescent imaging can help scientists and researchers understand which molecules are produced in large amounts in cancer or other diseases. This information may be useful in diagnosis or in identifying possible targets for therapeutic drugs.
Looking at just one or two molecules in cell or tissue samples is fairly straightforward; however, it doesn't provide a clear picture of how those molecules are behaving in the real world. For that, scientists need to expand their view.
A new image analysis technique makes finding important biological molecules — including telltale signs of disease — and learning how they interact in living organisms much faster and far less expensive. Hyper-Spectral Phasor (HySP) analysis could even be useful for diagnosing and monitoring diseases using cellphone images. By looking at multiple targets, or watching targets move over time, the technique provides a much better view of what's actually happening within complex living systems.
Currently, researchers must look at different labels separately, then apply complicated techniques to layer them together and figure out how they relate to one another — a time-consuming and expensive process. HySP can look at many different molecules in one pass. In addition, the algorithm effectively filters through interference to discern the true signal, even if that signal is extremely weak. HySP uses much less computing time, and expensive imaging instrumentation is not necessary.
In experimental models, genetic manipulation can be used to label molecules, but it can't be done with people. In that case, the intrinsic signals of those molecules must be used. Those inherent signals — the natural fluorescence from biomolecules — normally get in the way of imaging. Using this new algorithm that can effectively find weak signals in a cluttered background, the researchers can pinpoint their targets in the body.
The scientists hope to test the process with the help of soldiers whose lungs have been damaged by chemicals and irritants they may have encountered in combat. A light-emitting probe will be extended down into the soldiers’ lungs while the probe records images of the fluorescence in the surrounding tissues. HySP will then be used to create a fluorescent map, which will be compared with that of healthy lung tissue to see if the damage can be discerned. If so, the team hopes to further develop the technology so it may one day help these soldiers and other lung patients receive more targeted treatment. It might also one day for clinicians to use HySP to analyze cellphone pictures of skin lesions to determine if they are at risk of being cancerous. Physicians could determine if the lesions have changed color or shape over time, and then examine the patient further to be certain of a diagnosis and respond appropriately.