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Three-dimensional images of tissue samples could help spot cancer early, say researchers.

Scientists from the University of Leeds have created a technique to generate hi-resolution, colour 3D images of a piece of tissue.

The images can be rotated on a computer screen and examined from any angle.

Cancer Research UK said the technology could help researchers understand how cancer grew and spread, and learn how to treat it more effectively.

The findings are published in the American Journal of Pathology.

Digital microscopy is not new - tissue scanning first appeared a decade ago, replacing the conventional method of manually cutting ultra-thin slices of tissue one by one to then examine them under a microscope.

But these scanners, which are now used around the world, produce two-dimensional images, revealing only one cross-section of that particular piece of tissue.

And this has drawbacks, according to Dr Derek Magee, one of the researchers involved in the study.

Realistic image
"The tissue is of course three-dimensional, and in a lot of applications this three-dimensional nature is important," he told BBC News.

"For example, if you take a blood vessel, which is a branching network of tubes, and you take a slice of it, the 2D image that you get is an ellipse.

"This tells you absolutely nothing about the connectivity, or the specific branching, of that particular network of blood vessels, which could be particularly important for cancer specialists."


Before a realistic 3D image is generated, the software stacks all the virtual slides together
A 3D image could help provide much more information than a simple 2D scan.

To create one, a piece of tissue must be cut with an ultra-precise machine called microtome into hundreds of very thin slices.

Each slice is then put onto a 1mm-thick piece of glass and loaded into a digital scanner.

The scanner then creates 2D impressions of each cross-section, and this is where the new technology comes into play.

The software developed by the Leeds University team generates a three-dimensional shape from these virtual slides, creating a realistic image that a researcher can manipulate and spin around.

Spotting cancer
"This may help spot small tumours that could be missed by conventional approaches," said Dr Magee.

"Also, if there is a major blood vessel fairly nearby, it will be possible to see if a tumour has reached it.

"And if it has not, you can probably cut it out very safely."

It is the same with organs, added Dr Magee - if a surgeon wants to remove a tumour near a very sensitive organ, the main question is about the safety of the procedure.


It is also possible to reconstruct 3D images of whole sections - as seen with this mouse embryo, created with 200 slides
This technology could help researchers understand more about the disease, and how to treat it more effectively, said Dr Kat Arney, science information manager at Cancer Research UK.

"We're beginning to understand just how complex cancer is," she told the BBC.

"A tumour is a complex three-dimensional 'organ' made of cancerous and healthy cells, including blood vessels, immune cells and other 'normal' cells.

"It will be fascinating to see how this exciting new technique is taken forward by cancer researchers, and what secrets it can yield about the disease."

In the past, there have been attempts to create 3D images of tissue samples.

But the images were low resolution and hence not very detailed, generated after taking photos of slides on a microscope with a camera, one by one, and then assembling them digitally.

But the Leeds University team said that their approach was the first time a standard digital scanner had been used to produce high-resolution images.

"Up until now, the use of 3D imaging technology to study disease has been limited because of low resolution, and the time and difficulty associated with acquiring large numbers of images with a microscope," said lead researcher Dr Darren Treanor.
BBC News - 3D images of tissue may help spot and treat cancer
 

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What kind of scanner is used and how far away is the scanner from the subject? I'm thinking if the means to do this from a significant distance and you could track bloodflow through the vessels in the brain you could infer brain activity and "read minds".

Privacy would irrevocably be gone.


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Privacy would irrevocably be gone.
Sort of, but not really. You'd know the base emotional states and such, but almost all details will be lost... Well unless you had been scanning the brain for a very long time and could corellate the details with external stimuli... It would also require a huge amount of computation, but who knows how cheap computation will be in the distant future.
 

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@Snow Leopard

Actually brain researchers have already concluded that the human brain is similar enough that your brain could be easily read as mine.


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Actually brain researchers have already concluded that the human brain is similar enough that your brain could be easily read as mine.
It is important not to take such claims out of context. The scope of 'mind reading' might be a little less than you expect.
 

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Still, the question is what kind of scanning methods are used for this?

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The journal article was actually linked to in the article on the BBC website (finally a journalist who did their job properly!)

ScienceDirect.com - The American Journal of Pathology - Toward Routine Use of 3D Histopathology as a Research Tool

Here are some excerpts from the article:
Competing alternative techniques to 3D tissue reconstruction using individually stained serial sections, and alternative nondestructive 3D imaging techniques, include optical projection tomography,43D imaging with ultrasonography,5 microscopic magnetic resonance imaging, or X-ray microcomputed tomography, confocal laser scanning or multiphoton microscopy, and serial block face imaging (eg, episcopic fluorescence image capture and high-resolution episcopic microscopy).6 Although all are mature technologies, which are used in research practice, each have limitations, whereas using conventional histopathological characteristics has significant advantages because it allows for conventional histopathological staining and interpretation techniques.

More conventional methods of 3D histopathological analysis use proved and simple laboratory techniques to study structure, function, and disease manifestations. Examples include the use of photomicrographs and customized automated desktop software, [7] and [8] in which a digital camera mounted on a light microscope captured images from serial sections of cervical carcinoma invasion. An extension of this is the large-image microscope array,9 whereby sectioning, imaging, and reconstruction were used to reconstruct whole organs. A further example of a fully integrated system of 3D reconstruction was previously described,10 in which a tissue processing, sectioning, slide scanning, and reconstruction system was fully automated and integrated into one process. Although these are useful methods for 3D reconstructions, particularly using an integrated system, the images and 3D reconstruction are limited by low resolution.
In light of these limiting factors, we have developed novel 3D histopathological software, which uses automated virtual slide scanners to generate high-resolution digital images and produce 3D tissue reconstructions at a cellular resolution level. It can be used on any stained tissue section (eg, H&E, IHC, or special stains or chromogenic in situ hybridization).
The stain used was hematoxylin and eosin stain

So it's use in cancer for example would require taking a biopsy first. Most of the techniques in the first paragraph also require some sort of dye, but they do permit in-vivo scanning.
 
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