Researchers in California have created transparent mice, which enable scientists to get an extraordinary view of the body and brain in great detail.
In a study published Thursday in the journal Cell, the author's discuss how they made the mice, which are dead and used entirely for research. Usually, scientists studying organs on a microscopic scale dissect and slice, which can take a long time and isn't always accurate, since the slices can be put together incorrectly and cells can be lost. As New Scientist reports, if organs are see-through then cells and connections can be viewed in their original locations, making it easier for researchers. However, lipids block light from going through the organ tissue, and cannot be removed because without lipids, organ tissue will collapse.
Studying research done at Stanford University in April that allowed a team to turn a mouse brain transparent, a team at the California Institute of Technology first euthanized a mouse, then removed its skin. Detergent was put into the mouse through its circulatory system, and although the lipids were dissolved there wasn't any tissue damage. Large bones that were blocking cells were taken out of the mouse, and fluorescent chemicals were put in to highlight specific cells. It takes about one week to turn a mouse transparent.
Viviana Gradinaru of the California Institute of Technology said her team is already working on mapping the nervous system. "There are instances where electrical stimulation is used to help treat Parkinson's, bladder control or pain and those electrical stimulators are applied to nerves throughout the body," she told New Scientist. "Knowing exactly where those nerves run to and from, and their functions, would improve those treatments." The researchers have also used the method on human tissue. "We've cleared biopsies from skin cancer to identify what kind of cells are present," Gradinaru said.