Living cancer cell captured in real time

This image of a living bone cancer cell was taken with a super-resolving structured illumination microscope. The cell was fluorescently stained to highlight its nucleus, mitochondria and cytoskeleton.

The microscope is called ‘super-resolving’ because it can take images with double the resolution of the best conventional optical microscopes, to about 100 nanometers according to Thomas Huser from the University of Bielefeld, Germany – usually only possible with electron microscopes.

It is unique among this class of microscopes – which have been around for about 20 years – because it can collect and display the images virtually instantly rather than collecting multiple images and reconstructing them. The researchers achieved this by integrating the microscope into a high-performance computing platform.

“We have been able to reproduce about 60 frames per second – a higher frame rate than cinema films,” says lead author Andreas Markwirth. “The time between measurement and image is less than 250 milliseconds, so the technology allows real-time recording.”

The researchers can now look more closely into the inner structure of the cell with the new microscope than other current high-end versions and, because of its speed, can follow intracellular movement within living cells.

“This enables a number of things that we are currently working on,” says Huser, such as observing the intracellular movement of viruses after infecting a cell and autophagosomes involved in cancer.

Further details are published in the journal Nature Communications.

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