For the first time, scientists were able to capture three, real-time images of when a virus invades a cell, giving us a deeper understanding of how disease works in the body.
The video is two and a half minutes long, and shows a virus that is much smaller than a grain of sand moving through the walls of a person’s intestines as it looks for an entrance.
Understanding how viruses enter cells is important for finding better defense mechanisms, but tracking the particles is more difficult – mainly because they are much smaller than the cells they are moving around.
“It’s like trying to photograph a person standing in front of a skyscraper,” said clinical psychologist Courtney Johnson, of Duke University in North Carolina. “You can’t get an entire skyscraper and see the detail of the person in front of it with one picture.”
In addition, virus particles move much faster outside the cell than inside, making it more difficult to create a well-designed image to cope with different sizes and speeds.
The answer in this case is a machine called 3D-TrIm, or 3D Tracking and Imaging Microscopy. It’s two microscopes in one: the first to ‘close’ to small particles, and the second to capture 3D images of surrounding cells. It’s a bit like a satellite navigation app that keeps track of your car’s location between multiple locations.
With particles of the virus that are illuminated through a special fluorescent marker, its position can be fixed 1,000 times a second, allowing researchers to monitor its movements during the most important stages of the disease in detail.
In the Duke University video below, the virus’ entry path can be seen as a purple line.
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“Sometimes when I present the project people ask me, ‘is this a video game or a simulation?'” says Johnson. “No, this is something that came from a real microscope.”
We all breathe in millions of viruses every day, many of which fail to cause harm – but scientists want to know more about how some viruses jump into the protective cells and mucus that cover the airways and intestines to cause disease.
This new 3D-Trim method should help, although it has its limitations: small objects need to be labeled before imaging to make them visible, and the fluorescent dye needs to be made long enough for researchers to monitor. the whole disease process.
However, the team behind 3D-Trim says there’s potential for the system to improve quickly, and to adapt it to other types of clinical diagnostics – whether it’s monitoring viruses or monitoring drug delivery.
“Importantly, the application of this method can be extended to any system in which the rapid exchange of nanoscale substances occurs on large scales, including the delivery of nanoscale drugs into the lungs and through the pulmonary artery,” write the researchers in their paper. published.
Research has been published in Natural Methods.