Less Invasive Imaging?

Einstein Researchers Develop Fluorescent Protein That Makes Internal Organs Visible

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have developed the first fluorescent protein that enables scientists to clearly “see” the internal organs of living animals without the need for a scalpel or imaging techniques that can have side effects or increase radiation exposure.

Liver cells in this mouse contain the fluorescent protein iRFP. The mouse was exposed to near-infrared light, which has caused iRFP to emit light waves that are also near-infrared. The composite image shows these fluorescent near-infrared waves passing readily through the animal’s tissues to reveal its brightly glowing liver.

The new probe could prove to be a breakthrough in whole-body imaging – allowing doctors, for example, to noninvasively monitor the growth of tumors in order to assess the effectiveness of anti-cancer therapies. In contrast to other body-scanning techniques, fluorescent-protein imaging does not involve radiation exposure or require the use of contrast agents. The findings are described in the July 17 online edition of Nature Biotechnology.

For the past 20 years, scientists have used a variety of colored fluorescent proteins, derived from jellyfish and corals, to visualize cells and their organelles and molecules. But using fluorescent probes to peer inside live mammals has posed a major challenge. The reason: hemoglobin in an animal”s blood effectively absorbs the blue, green, red and other wavelengths used to stimulate standard fluorescent proteins along with any wavelengths emitted by the proteins when they do light up.

To overcome that roadblock, the laboratory of Vladislav Verkhusha, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy and structural biology at Einstein and the study”s senior author, engineered a fluorescent protein from a bacterial phytochrome (the pigment that a species of bacteria uses to detect light). This new phytochrome-based fluorescent protein, dubbed iRFP, both absorbs and emits light in the near-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum – the spectral region in which mammalian tissues are nearly transparent. Read full article in Einstein News

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