Case Western Reserve University scientist builds imager that identifies and locates individual cancer cells

Cleveland 28 September 2009Dave Wilson was dissatisfied with blurry, low-sensitivity optical images of diseased tissues. So, four years ago he set out to create a better imager. Now, David Wilson, a professor of biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University, can identify a single cancer cell in preclinical imaging studies. And he can pinpoint exactly where the cell is located in a three-dimensional image.


Called cryo-imaging, the system enables David Wilson and collaborators to identify single molecules, count the number of cells in an organ, compare a normal heart to an abnormal heart and more. The incredibly detailed images can show the effectiveness of different drug therapies, gene therapies and cellular therapies in preclinical testing, David Wilson said.

The cryo-imaging system literally disassembles real tissue layer by layer then reassembles the details into a cyber model. "You can't meet this resolution from outside the body", David Wilson stated.

In a paper published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering, David Wilson and co-authors describe cryo-imaging and the extensive software they wrote to enable them to zero in on single cells. The images are in colour, which provides more detail than the gray scale used in other devices, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging, he said.

In this specific model, the software assembled images of the internal organs, showing the location of individual metastatic cancer cells in the adrenal gland. If you're only interested in the central nervous system, the vascular system or something less than a complete specimen, the imager has the capability of giving you exactly what you want, David Wilson said. As the computer assembles the images, it sends text message updates to researchers.

James Basilion, an associate professor of radiology and biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve, did not work on David Wilson's imager but has seen the results. "This device provides superb resolution and sensitivity to identify fluorogenic compounds or cells virtually anywhere within a specimen", James Basilion stated. "No longer do we need to 'guess' which cells are taking up agents from radiological biodistribution studies. We now can visualize them."

David Wilson launched his research with a Third Frontier grant from the state of Ohio. As he made progress, he was funded with about $1,5 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health. He has founded a start-up company, called BioInVision Inc., in Mayfield Village, Ohio, to commercialize the imaging system.

Case Western Reserve University is among the United States' leading research institutions. Founded in 1826 and shaped by the unique merger of the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, Case Western Reserve is distinguished by its strengths in education, research, service, and experiential learning. Located in Cleveland, Case Western Reserve offers nationally recognized programmes in the Arts and Sciences, Dental Medicine, Engineering, Law, Management, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work.

Source: Case Western Reserve University

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