To capture 3D live cell images under existing technology, scientists need to rely on a confocal microscope. However, the laser light of such microscope hitting on the sample is typically one million times that of summer sunlight. The intense light exposure inevitably disrupts cell activities and eventually kills the cell, posing limits to the study of cell biology.

Recently, researchers at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) have achieved a technological breakthrough, opening new possibilities to the study of cell biology. They have developed a new generation of microscope, which not only could capture 3D live cell videos, but the resulted images are also of much higher quality, greatly enhancing the accuracy.

(From left) Prof Du Shengwang and his team members Dr Zhao Teng and Dr Zhao Luwei develop a new generation of microscope. Photo credit: HKUST
(From left) Prof Du Shengwang and his team members Dr Zhao Teng and Dr Zhao Luwei develop a new generation of microscope. Photo credit: HKUST

The LiTone Line Bessel Sheet (LBS) microscope invented by the team is led by Prof Du Shengwang and Prof Michael Loy from HKUST. This microscope is 1,000 times less photo-toxic than the current confocal model, allowing the cell to live much longer for observation. Phototoxicity is a type of sensitivity induced by light, which could cause molecular changes.

“It is a powerful technology out of sophisticated science and engineering, but we make it simple to users so that it can be operated by biologists with minimal amount of training,” Du said. “For the first time, scientists can study cells in much greater details. That could eventually help scientists unlock the mystery of how certain diseases were formed and developed in a cellular level.”

The new microscope is also about 1,000 times faster, allowing much higher temporal resolution for a smooth video taking. Scientists can then study how proteins are transported within cells with great accuracy and efficiency, and what happens when the cell becomes abnormal.

This new technology has been successfully transferred to Light Innovation Technology (LiT) Ltd, a startup co-founded by Du, Loy and their PhD students Dr Zhao Teng and Dr Zhao Luwei. LiT has won the Innovation Award and GF Securities Award in HKUST One Million Dollar Entrepreneurship Competition this year. MIMS

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