Engineers can take pictures of the brain with surgical needle and laser light

March 20, 2017
An image of cells taken inside the mouse brain using a new method developed by University of Utah electrical and computer engineering associate professor Rajesh Menon and his team. Credit: Rajesh Menon

With just an inexpensive micro-thin surgical needle and laser light, University of Utah engineers have discovered a minimally invasive, inexpensive way to take high-resolution pictures of an animal brain, a process that also could lead to a much less invasive method for humans.

A team led by University of Utah electrical and computer engineering associate professor Rajesh Menon has now proven the process works on mice for the benefit of medical researchers studying neurological disorders such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and aggression. Menon and his team have been working with the U. of U.'s renowned Nobel-winning researcher, Distinguished Professor of Biology and Human Genetics Mario Capecchi, and Jason Shepherd, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy.

The group has documented its process in a paper titled, "Deep- imaging via epifluorescence Computational Cannula Microscopy," in the latest issue of Scientific Reports. The paper's lead author is doctoral student Ganghun Kim.

The process, called "computational cannula microscopy," involves taking a about a quarter-millimeter in diameter and inserting it into the brain. Laser light shines through the needle and into the brain, illuminating certain cells "like a flashlight," Menon says. In the case of mice, researchers genetically modify the animals so that only the cells they want to see glow under this .

The light from the glowing cells then is captured by the needle and recorded by a standard camera. The captured light is run through a sophisticated algorithm developed by Menon and his team, which assembles the scattered waves into a 2D or potentially, even a 3D picture.

Typically, researchers must surgically take a sample of the animal's brain to examine the cells under a microscope, or they use an endoscope that can be anywhere from 10 to 100 times thicker than a needle.

University of Utah electrical and computer engineering associate professor Rajesh Menon holds a tiny surgical needle that can be used with a camera to take pictures of a mouse's brain cells. The process, which can be used by medical researchers, is much less invasive than earlier methods of examining a mouse brain. Menon believes the process ultimately could be used on humans for a less expensive, less invasive method of examining a patient's brain. Credit: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering

"That's very damaging," Menon says of previous methods of examining the brain. "What we have done is to take a surgical needle that's really tiny and easily put it into the brain as deep as we want and see very clear high-resolution images. This technique is particularly useful for looking deep inside the brain where other techniques fail."

Now that the process has been proven to work in animals, Menon believes it can potentially be developed for human patients, creating a simpler, less expensive and than endoscopes.

"Although its much more complex from a regulatory standpoint, it can be done in humans, and not just in the brain, but for other organs as well," he says. "But our motivation for this project right now is to look inside the brain of the mouse and further develop the technique to understand fundamental neuroscience in the mouse brain."

Explore further: Internet of Things smart needle probes the brain during surgery

Related Stories

Internet of Things smart needle probes the brain during surgery

January 20, 2017
A "smart" needle with an embedded camera is helping doctors perform safer brain surgery.

Can the brain feel it? The world's smallest extracellular needle-electrodes

October 25, 2016
A research team in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Information Engineering and the Electronics-Inspired Interdisciplinary Research Institute (EIIRIS) at Toyohashi University of Technology developed 5-μm-diameter ...

Group develops deep, non-invasive imaging of mouse brain

February 23, 2017
Nearly four years ago, then-President Obama launched the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, to "accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will enable ...

Using genes to understand the brain's building blocks

January 4, 2016
Understanding the cellular building blocks of the brain, including the number and diversity of cell types, is a fundamental step toward understanding brain function. Researchers at the Allen Institute for Brain Science have ...

Recommended for you

Researchers find monkey brain structure that decides if viewed objects are new or unidentified

August 18, 2017
A team of researchers working at the University of Tokyo School of Medicine has found what they believe is the part of the monkey brain that decides if something that is being viewed is recognizable. In their paper published ...

Artificial neural networks decode brain activity during performed and imagined movements

August 18, 2017
Artificial intelligence has far outpaced human intelligence in certain tasks. Several groups from the Freiburg excellence cluster BrainLinks-BrainTools led by neuroscientist private lecturer Dr. Tonio Ball are showing how ...

Study of nervous system cells can help to understand degenerative diseases

August 18, 2017
The results of a new study show that many of the genes expressed by microglia differ between humans and mice, which are frequently used as animal models in research on Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

How whip-like cell appendages promote bodily fluid flow

August 18, 2017
Researchers at Nagoya University have identified a molecule that enables cell appendages called cilia to beat in a coordinated way to drive the flow of fluid around the brain; this prevents the accumulation of this fluid, ...

Researchers make surprising discovery about how neurons talk to each other

August 17, 2017
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have uncovered the mechanism by which neurons keep up with the demands of repeatedly sending signals to other neurons. The new findings, made in fruit flies and mice, challenge ...

Neurons involved in learning, memory preservation less stable, more flexible than once thought

August 17, 2017
The human brain has a region of cells responsible for linking sensory cues to actions and behaviors and cataloging the link as a memory. Cells that form these links have been deemed highly stable and fixed.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

michbaskett
not rated yet Mar 20, 2017
It sounds very much like something we already have in use in neurosurgery called Stealth. We already have the ability to image tumors and clots before and during surgery in three dimensional detail. I have doubts that the resolution this entails is enough to determine what sort of tumor a patient has as opposed to simply being able to tell where the edges of the tumor are. I may be incorrect since the caption below the photgraph states it can take "photograohs" of cells, but I would have to see it before I could believe it.

If it is true they can actually gain details of individual cells with this, enough to make a diagnosis, then I would gladly be proven wrong.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.