Tracking Emergence of Viral Infectious Agents through Optical/X-Ray Imaging Techniques


Over the past few years, there have been a considerable number of virally infectious agents, including the deadly Ebola virus in Africa, SARS virus in Asia, and Chikungunya and Zika virus in the Americas. In an effort to curb the emergence and re-emergence of these disease outbreaks, a number of government bodies have announced plans to increase funding for studies related to the development of therapeutics, diagnostics, and vaccines to combat emerging viral diseases.

Zika Virus

A major concern at the moment is the Zika virus which, since its emergence in Brazil in 2015, has been linked to an increased number of fetal microcephaly. Moreover, it has been predicted that this virus will spread across most parts of the North and South America in the days to come.

In fact, the US has already witnessed one such incidence of the transmission of Zika virus. Vector mosquitoes play an integral role in the geographic spread of Zika virus and therefore, there is a dire need to perform dedicated research into the biological and molecular transmission by these mosquitoes.

Optical Imaging

In the case of small animals, the occurrence of infectious diseases caused by bacterial, viral, helminth and protozoan agents can be assessed by means of high-throughput optical imaging techniques. As such, many studies have used and reported factors like host immune response, reporters for in vivo optical detection of infectious agents as well as identification of normal animal physiology to assess the therapeutic response for drug agents and candidate vaccine. The same factors were also used in studies involving interactions between a host and infectious agent (Figure 1).

Figure 1. NK cell depletion results in increased cytomegalovirus load and tissue distribution. (A) Representative overlay of light emission and X-ray imaging. Shown are non-depleted (top) and NK cell-depleted animal (bottom). (B) Quantification of total, normalized signal intensity (RU: Relative Units) (C) Quantification of light-emitting areas in pixels. Data courtesy of Wensveen et al., 2012

Optical imaging has also been employed in inflammation models of gestation which may hold considerable significance in research related to Zika infection. Bruker’s Optical/X-ray In-Vivo Xtreme II™ has multimodal imaging capability that facilitates high-sensitive X-ray imaging, Cherenkov luminescent imaging, direct radioisotopic imaging, and flexible fluorescent imaging and bioluminescent imaging.

Therefore, scientists can study various features of disease and treatment in empirical models such as therapeutic response, host response, load and distribution of infection, animal physiology, and tracer development and usage. Furthermore, optical imaging can be used for analyzing agents of infectious diseases in culture, as illustrated in Figure 2. Therefore, optical imaging can be considered as a simple and easy technique for tracking infectious disease agents.

Figure 2. Optical three day dynamic imaging of Salmonella-Luc and Pseudomonas-GFP swarm behavior in agar plates. Data courtesy of Matthew W. Leevy, Notre Dame University.

Besides optical imaging, techniques like preclinical MR, CT, PET and SPECT offer complementary imaging approaches, which can be easily adapted in clinical laboratories. X-ray, optical, and complementary modalities can also be used for studying disease vectors, including imaging of physiological states and tracking of infections (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Head region and characteristic highly decorated antenna flagellum of male mosquito imaged with Bruker SkyScan MicroCT (1.9µm pixel).


Today, an increasing number of people are traveling across the globe, which may lead to more number of human interactions with disease hosts. As a result, there is always a possibility that infectious diseases will continue to emerge over the years. As government bodies continue to expand new approaches to overcome these disease threats, innovative methods, including optical in vivo imaging technique, could well become an essential part of these approaches.


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Last updated: Mar 7, 2016 at 12:50 PM

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