Bioethics Blogs

Snapshots of Life: Fat (Tissue) Is Beautiful

Fat cells in 3D

Caption: Fat cells (red) surrounded by blood vessels (green) that supply them with nutrients.
Credit: Daniela Malide, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; NIH

With all of today’s sophisticated microscopes, you’d think it would be simple to take high-magnification photos of fat—but it’s not. Fat tissue often leaks slippery contents, namely lipids, when it’s thinly sliced for viewing under a microscope. And even when a sample is prepared without leakage, there’s another hurdle: the viscous droplets of lipid contained in the fat cells block light from passing through.

So, it’s good news that one of NIH’s intramural scientists here in Bethesda, MD, has come up with a way to produce high-resolution, 3-D images of fat cells like the one you see above. Not only are these images aesthetically appealing, but they’ll be valuable to efforts to expand our understanding of this essential and much-maligned tissue.

To achieve this feat, Daniela Malide, a staff scientist at our National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s microscopy core, took advantage of a new fluorescent red dye (LipidTox Red) developed to label lipid molecules inside cells. The dye had never been used to stain entire fat cells, but Malide decided to try it on some fat tissue taken from a mouse that had been genetically engineered to make its blood vessels glow green.

After exposing the fat tissue to the dye for 30 minutes, Malide examined it with confocal and two-photon microscopy. And she was stunned by the dramatic results. The dye clung to the lipid molecules, transforming each spherical fat cell into a scarlet orb surrounded by a network of fluorescent green blood vessels.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.