A study conducted between Penn State and UChicago that was recently published in eLife finds a research team taking CT scanning and diagnosis to new heights through heightening the scanning technology’s scale and resolution. The team, which included Penn State’s Dr. Keith Cheng, has developed a novel technique called X-ray histotomography to study diseases such as cancer on a cellular scale.
The team perfected their technique through combining histology, in which specialists examine stained, thin tissue slices from patients under a microscope with CT scanning to image not only small organisms but also their tissues at a higher resolution in three dimensions. An issue that often arises with traditional histological practices is that tissue can be distorted or lost when samples are physically sectioned; the research team says that this is avoided with their new method, which also permits the accurate measurement of 3D cellular features, such as their volume and shape.
Cheng told Science Daily that, “the quantitative and objective measurements made possible by histotomography could potentially allow us to distinguish between subtypes of cancer and other diseases that presently look the same using traditional histology so that they may be more appropriately treated.”
For the study, the researchers reconstructed 3D models of young zebrafish that they could examine down to the cellular level. They chose to work with zebrafish because they are the same size–for their entire life cycle, from larval stage to adulthood–as the samples physicians use to examine tumors. Cheng says that pathologists are now able to study an entire tissue sample without needing to slice it up. And clinical scientists can now examine the 3D and microscopic features of cells because of the images higher resolution and clarity, all thanks to X-ray histotomography.
“The beauty and complexity of the tissue I saw was mind-bending,” Cheng said as he described the X-ray histotomographical images of zebrafish that were included in the study. The heightened imaging technology can be used in tandem with computational tools to calculate and record the volume, density, size, and shape of cells. This can help specialists study the characteristics of disease in a new way that has the potential to lead to the discovery of new drugs as well as strengthen clinical care.