Bioethics Blogs

Cool Videos: Looking Inside Living Cells

Cell biologists now possess an unprecedented set of laboratory tools to look inside living cells and study their inner workings. Many of these tools have only recently appeared, while others have deeper historical roots. Combining the best of the old with the best of the new, researchers now have the power to explore the biological underpinnings of life in ways never seen before.

That’s the story of this video from the lab of Roberto Weigert, an intramural researcher with NIH’s National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Weigert is a cell biologist who specializes in intravital microscopy (IVM), an extremely high-resolution imaging tool that traces its origins to the 19th century. What’s unique about IVM is its phenomenal resolution can be used in living animals, allowing researchers to watch biological processes unfold in organs under real physiological conditions and in real time.

However, the challenge has been that IVM is so high resolution that the most seemingly trivial movements, such as the animal’s breathing or even a slight twitch, have a jarring visual effect that’s somewhat like watching a series of major earthquakes. Weigert and his collaborators solved this problem by learning to better stabilize an organ of interest and minimize the motion artifacts. After accomplishing that, his group went on to maximize the optics of IVM, cracking the subcellular barrier about eight years ago to visualize the trafficking of molecules within the cell in nearly real time. He calls this high-resolution IVM approach Intravital SubCellular Microscopy (iSMIC).

That’s where “new” enters the picture.

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.