Researchers at The University of Nottingham allow us a break-through technique that uses sound rather than lighting to see inside live cells, with potential application within stem-cell transplants and cancer diagnosis.

The new nanoscale ultrasound technique uses shorter-than-optical wavelengths of sound and could even rival the optical super-resolution strategies which won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Biochemistry.

This new kind of sub-optical phonon (sound) imaging provides invaluable information about the structure, mechanical qualities and behaviour of individual living cells at a level not achieved before.

Researchers from the Optical technologies and Photonics group in the Faculty of Engineering, University or college of Nottingham, are behind the discovery, which is released in the paper ‘High resolution 3D imaging of residing cells with sub-optical wavelength phonons’ in the journal, Scientific Reports .

“People are usually most familiar with ultrasound as a way of looking inside the entire body — in the simplest terms we’ve engineered it to the level where it can look inside an individual cell. Nottingham happens to be the only place in the world with this capability, ” said Teacher Matt Clark, who contributed to the study.

In conventional optical microscopy, which uses light (photons), the size of the smallest object you can see (or the resolution) is restricted by the wavelength.

For biological specimens, the particular wavelength cannot go smaller than that of blue gentle because the energy carried on photons of light in the ultraviolet (uv) (and shorter wavelengths) is so high it can destroy the particular bonds that hold biological molecules together damaging the pv cells.

Optical super-resolution imaging also has distinct restrictions in biological studies. This is because the fluorescent dyes by using are often toxic and it requires huge amounts of light plus time to observe and reconstruct an image which is damaging in order to cells.

Unlike light, sound does not have the high-energy payload. This has enabled the Nottingham researchers to utilize smaller wavelengths and see smaller things and get to higher promises without damaging the cell biology.

“A great thing is that, like ultrasound on the body, ultrasound within the cells causes no damage and requires no poisonous chemicals to work. Because of this we can see inside cells that one day time might be put back into the body, for instance as stem-cell transplants, ” adds Professor Clark.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Nottingham . Note: Content may be edited for design and length.