It’s called NanoMslide: Five years in development, it is able to work with a conventional microscope to bring out cancer cells in different colors, allowing experts to detect signs of the disease much more easily.
The new technology is based on the physics of plasmon – oscillations in charged particles, such as electrons. Thin layers of silver provide whole fields of free-flowing electrons, which, when stimulated by light, line up in a certain way.
Inserting small nano-sized pores into the silver manipulates the structure of light, so that as it passes through tissue, certain colors will be selected, producing a spectrum that depends on subtle differences in the structure of the sample and – importantly – its own electron configurations. .
Effectively, the slide becomes a sensor that reveals the composition of the cells placed on it through a color-coded light show. It promises to enable disease diagnosis made earlier and faster than before, without the laborious application of stains that risk damaging samples.
“When I first looked at a tissue under the microscope on NanoMslide, I was incredibly excited,” says biochemist Belinda Parker from La Trobe University in Australia.
“For the first time, I saw cancer cells that just popped up in me. They had a different color than the surrounding tissue, and it was very easy to distinguish them from surrounding cells.”
Parker and her colleagues describe the difference as going from black and white television to color – so something of a leap. With existing techniques, trying to identify cancer cells under a microscope can be a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.
The team used a number of advanced manufacturing techniques, some of which have only just been developed, to produce their slides. Once the technology is scaled up, it should prove useful in a variety of medical and non-medical settings.
These nanotechnology glasses require much less preparation time than existing techniques, and results can be achieved in as little as 10 minutes. In time-critical situations – for example, deciding which parts of a tumor to remove during surgery – it is hugely beneficial.
“Current approaches to imaging tissues often rely on staining or labeling cells to make them visible under the microscope,” said physicist and chemist Brian Abbey, also from La Trobe University.
“Even with staining or labeling, it can be challenging for pathologists to detect cancer cells at risk of some samples being misdiagnosed, especially in the very early stages of the disease.”
As effective as NanoMslide is, researchers are still not entirely sure what distinguishes the different colors: it could be the proteins in the cells, they suggest, or something to do with the cell skeletons, or how the cells are organized.
A study has already been completed showing how nanotechnology improves the process of selecting early stages of breast cancer from benign lesions, using both human tissue and a mouse model: visually, the cancer cells showed “good differentiation” from other cells, the researchers say. report.
The team is now convinced that NanoMslide can be adapted to look for a variety of different types of cancers and even different diseases altogether. Its creators are currently working to bring the technology to a form that can be used commercially.
“Our vision is to expand our technology to help diagnose a variety of other cancers by analyzing all possible tissue sections as well as use in plant biology and agriculture,” says Abbey.
The research is published in Nature.