Now, in a sensational first, embedded microscopes come to rescue

Written by PTI | London | Updated: May 1 2014, 17:42pm hrs
Scientists in the UK are aiming to implant a tiny microscope into a rat that could monitor cellular changes and reduce the number of animals used in medical research.

The researchers will initially attempt to study spinal cells by attaching a microscope to the vertebrae of a rat to demonstrate that useful data can be gathered.

The technique could allow scientists to monitor disease progression or therapeutic effects in living organisms and reduce the number of animals sacrificed for research.

The 400,000 pounds project is being funded by the National Centre for the Reduction, Refinement and Replacement of Animals in Research and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

"The use of in vivo microscopic imaging is widespread for fundamental research using animal models in biomedicine, for drug discovery and tracking disease progression," said Andy Harvey, lead investigator of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Glasgow.

"Deep-tissue imaging on the other hand is highly invasive and so termination of the animal normally occurs after each measurement," he said.

"For experiments involving testing with multiple time points, for example in studying disease progression or cell migration, termination of an animal for each time point can require the use of a large number of animals to achieve a reliable research outcome," Harvey said.

"Furthermore this provides only snapshots of phenomena, hampering understanding of cell fate and function," he said.

"If we can implant an imaging device we would be able to greatly reduce the number of animals being used and monitor the progression of a disease or the effects of treatment on the same animal."

"The researchers will embed a microscope measuring just 5mm by 5mm by 10mm in size which will be cemented onto a vertebrae and attached to a power source," he said. The aim is to provide real-time imaging.

"This has never been done before. The technology is certainly there, but the big challenge will be in ensuring a stable image countering the effects of movement and breathing and finding out whether scar tissue causes any problems." he said.

The microscope will be anchored with cement to a vertebrae and optical image guides will transmit images to detector arrays that can be remotely located within body cavities - like a pacemaker is fitted in humans with minimal or no discomfort. The microscope can be recovered at the end of the study.