Diagnostic imaging provides clinicians and scientists with important visual representations of the body’s internal structures, greatly enhancing clinical analysis and medical intervention. Researchers continue to break new ground on how different imaging technologies can provide a better understanding of human health.
Jitao Zhang, assistant professor of biomedical engineering (BME) at Wayne State University and scientific member of the Karmanos Cancer Institute’s Molecular Imaging Program, is an award-winning researcher who holds three patents on a new imaging technique called Brillouin microscopy that can map cell and often sclerotic tissue. What is associated with early signs of diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Different from traditional imaging methods such as confocal microscopy, Brillouin microscopy can obtain mechanical information (eg, hardness and viscosity) of biological samples in a non-contact and label-free manner.
His lab’s work to improve the method, which could answer many important questions in biophysics and mechanobiology, appeared in Watchman Having been named by peers in the science community as one of the top 10 science stories of 2022.
Chang and collaborators from the University of Maryland-; Where Chang spent six years in the bioengineering department before joining Wayne State in 2021 -; The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently published a research article in the March issue of nature ways examined the use of a dual Brillouin scanning microscope (dLSBM) to improve acquisition speed and reduce radiation doses, two major limiting factors for the widespread deployment of this technology in biomedicine.
said Chang, whose research has been funded and supported by agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the American Cancer Society. “If we’re imaging larger samples like clusters of cancer cells or an early-stage embryo, we need to wait an hour or more for a single image.”
Using dLSBM, Zhang’s team has reported speeds 50 to 100 times faster than their counterparts, with an 80-fold reduction in light irradiation for 2D and 3D mechano-mapping.
With this innovation, we can obtain a single mechanical image of cell groups in a few minutes. This improved acquisition speed is important because it allows us to investigate details of cell behavior in near real time.”
Jitao Zhang, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering (BME), Wayne State University
Brillouin microscopy is an optical imaging method rooted in what is known as Brillouin light scattering (BLS), first reported in 1922 by French physicist Léon Brillouin. BLS occurs when light interacts with a material and thermal fluctuations or vibrations of the molecules in the material cause the light to scatter. Vibrations can be affected by certain factors, including temperature, pressure, water content, or material stiffness. These properties are most valuable for the application of Brillouin microscopy as a diagnostic tool.
Disease progression, such as cancer metastases, is often associated with changes in cell stiffness, but this is difficult to measure because cells are small and live in very soft tissues. Conventional techniques measure cells prepared on a petri dish or other solid substrate. The Brillouin microscope only uses a laser beam to examine the mechanical properties, allowing the measurement to be made when the cells are in their physiological conditions.
Because no physical contact is required, the Brillouin technique is much less invasive and more convenient. Another application for which these properties are important is to better understand fetal tissue development, particularly in relation to pathologies and disorders of childbirth.
“Due to the three-dimensional structure of the embryo, traditional contact-based techniques face significant challenges for in vivo measurement,” Zhang said. “Because Brillouin microscopy works in a non-contact fashion, it sometimes becomes the only option available.”
Zhang collaborates with biologists and clinicians at Karmanos and other institutions to address biomedical questions through technological innovations. However, Zhang noted, “Brillouin technology is still in its early stage and has limited imaging depth. Our lab will continue to work on making it more accessible in broader biomedical fields.”
The interaction between engineers and members of the medical community is especially critical in the diagnostic phase of the healthcare journey. Zhang and other Wayne State BME researchers are guiding biomedical and healthcare research to unprecedented levels of advancement.
Chang, J.; et al. (2023) Rapid low-irradiation biomechanical imaging via double-line Brillouin microscopy. nature ways. doi.org/10.1038/s41592-023-01816-z.