This new-generation microscope can make three-dimensional images of small specimens (between 1mm and 2cm) through the use of a flat laser beam. And it does it practically in real time, which makes it possible to monitor animals as they develop. "We can see how the heart of a zebra fish beats and make a 3D- reconstruction of its beat," said Jorge Ripoll, professor at the UC3M Department of Bioengineering and Aerospace Engineering and co-founder of 4D Nature with Alicia Arranz and César Nombela. "It can be used for many studies related to cardiovascular illnesses, and to better understand how the heart functions."
4D Nature, supported by the UC3M Science Park Business Incubator, has already placed earlier models of the QIs-scope on the world market. The instrument is assembled, marketed and distributed by PlaneLight SL. This innovation is based on a patent owned by the UC3M and licensed by 4D Nature. "Right now there's no company that offers a team with similar characteristics. Other teams are ten times slower and cannot combine several angular measures in large samples," said a company spokesperson.
According to its creators, this technology represents the next step in confocal microscopy, which has revolutionized the world of biomedicine in the last two decades. The QIs-scope can capture 200 images a second, compared with the approximately five images per second of a modern confocal microscope. In addition to its speed, it can mark cells or molecular processes with different colors using its four lasers, which can be increased to six. "This makes it possible to monitor up to six different cells or six different cell types in the same specimen," said Ripoll, who conducts his research at the UC3M Biomedical Imaging and Instruments Group (BiiG).
This machine might help in understanding what occurs at the cellular level in the development of tissue or the internal functioning of organs. "If the cells are marked with fluorescent proteins, you can do a specific monitoring of what happens at the cellular level in each organ," said Ripoll. "We generate a beam of light with a laser. That beam of light excites a flourescence and when the beam of light is moved, we obtain a 3D image of the specimen we have placed."
QIs-scope has applications in the sector of biomedical imaging. It is useful in molecular biology research or development laboratories for studying whole organs or in models of in vivo animals. In fact, the measurements of the zebra fish's heart were taken in collaboration with Nadia Mercader's group from the National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC in Spanish). Also, it might be of interest to clinics and pharmaceutical centers which use the traditional confocal microscope. In addition, it can be used to monitor the quality of fluids and the presence of impurities to make 3D images of transparent materials. It can be applied through the use of other wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum (terahertz or microwave, for example) in images of opaque materials.
The key to the functioning of the QIs-scope lies in the software, because to take measures in different positions of a specimen at a velocity of 200 images per second, it is necessary to coordinate a set of lasers, motors, cameras and filters very effectively. The high measurement speed makes it possible to measure different angles of the specimen. This improves the resolution and the quality of the reconstructed data, but it requires very complex software to combine all these measurements. "Our goal is for the QIs-scope to be easy to use with intuitive software, so that the user can see the specimen and choose where to make the scans, choose the excitation colors and generate a three-dimensional image with as many colors as were chosen."
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