Technology is more accurate, gives better perspective on cell’s functions
Researchers with the Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biotechnology are looking at the cells within our body using an innovative technology: single cell imaging.
With single cell imaging, researchers are able to examine specific processes within living cells such as Kupffer cells.
Assistant Professor Amy Palmer, who has been at work with the single cell imaging technology at CU, said this is useful as cells are extremely complex, with countless processes taking place within each individual cell.
Prior methods involved working with dead cells.
“In general we treat cells like they’re slightly more complete test tubes,” Palmer said.
Palmer said while previous methods did give researchers an idea of the processes within cells, being able to single out individual processes provides researchers with a more accurate and complete picture.
“You want to watch these processes happening, but within a living cell,” Palmer said.
Using fluorescence, researchers can make individual proteins and components within cells illuminate, allowing them to single out and observe only one part of a very complex system in real time.
With single cell imaging, researchers are better able to understand the processes within cells that can lead to abnormalities such as cancer or other health issues, possibly opening up new options in treating these diseases.
The work being done within CU is limited but CIMB Director Leslie Leinwand says this is an area of research the school is looking to expand.
“We’re working on growing in the field in terms of hiring more faculty members,” said Leinwand.
One focus of Palmer’s research is that of calcium levels and properties in cells affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disorder that occurs mostly in people over the age of 65 and results in gradual memory loss and impairment of judgment, among other things.
With Alzheimer’s disease, the balance of calcium within the cells is disrupted. By observing the diseased cells, and comparing them to healthy ones, Palmer said she hopes to understand how this disruption occurs on a cellular level.
Researchers have been trying to identify whether the calcium imbalance is part of the cause of Alzheimer’s disease or merely a consequence.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association Web site, someone develops the disease every 72 seconds, and more than 5 million people in the US have the disease.
38-year-old biochemistry graduate student and researcher Philip Dittmer said he is excited about the possibilities of the technology.
“I think what we’ll eventually be able to do is to go from single cell imaging to looking at tissues, and further looking at them within an animal model as well,” Dittmer said.
Dittmer has contributed three years of research to CU and appreciates the work that he has done.
“I think it’s really important,” Dittmer said. “I probably will continue on with this and see where it leads.”
The research team at CU has been hard at work developing new single cell imaging methods including the fluorescence imaging that they use to observe calcium ions. The innovations that they develop are shared with the research community in order to provide more accurate and useful techniques, Palmer said.
“If you can identify what’s gone wrong, then you can try to develop treatments for these diseases,” Palmer said.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Stephen Oskay at Stephen.Oskay@colorado.edu.