Super-resolution microscopy could help better study single cells

For a better understanding of biological processes, researchers need to be able to ‘see’ the smallest components of individual cells, such as DNA, mRNA and proteins.

In response, the EU-funded CELLVIEWER project is developing a super-resolution microscope that uses hardware and software which enables the collection of high-resolution spatial and dynamic information in single cells. The research includes the development of new hardware and software for the microscope.

Since super-resolution microscopy is essential for life science research, this project could promote a radical shift in how cellular systems are studied.

As a test case, scientists are using the new technology to study the self-renewal and differentiation of individual embryonic stem cells in mice. These stem cells can differentiate into other types of cells.

The aim is to collect information at a nanoscale level to develop a model that can be used to predict which stimuli will produce which phenotype in an organism. Scientists want to develop a mechanistic understanding of how multiple single mouse embryonic stem cells maintain their ‘stemness’ or commit to differentiation.

Almost three years into the project, cell biologists now have access to this unique new technology which is expected to enable a better understanding of how embryonic stem cells develop into other types of cells. This, in turn, could potentially be applied to regenerative medicine. According to the project's consortium, no potential problems can be anticipated at this stage in releasing the initial CELLVIEWER prototype for use as a diagnostic tool.

The project team includes internationally recognized experts in the fields of stem cell and chromatin biology, super-resolution microscopy, quantitative modelling of biological systems, and hardware and software development. Their innovative approach to single cell analysis represents a paradigm shift in the way cellular systems are studied, according to the project.

To ensure the technology makes it out of the lab and into the market place, another EU-funded project – known as HERMES SR – is currently developing a business plan to commercialise CELLVIEWER’s super-resolution microscope.

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