University of Washington Associate Professor Eric Seibel and colleagues say the technology might bridge a widening gap between cutting-edge imaging techniques used in research and clinical practices.
The scientists, collaborating with VisionGate Inc. that owns the patents on the new microscope, said the technology -- known as "Cell-CT" -- works by rotating a cell under the microscope's lens while taking hundreds of pictures per rotation and digitally combining them to form a single 3-D image.
The 3-D visualizations, said the researchers, could lead to big advances in early cancer detection, since clinicians identify cancerous cells by using 2-D pictures to assess the cells' shape and size.
"It's a lot easier to spot a misshapen cell if you can see it from all sides," Seibel said. "A 2-D representation of a 3-D object is never perfectly accurate -- imagine trying to get an exact picture of the moon, seeing only one side."
University of Washington bioengineering doctoral student Qin Miao presented the research this week in Orlando, Fla., during a medical imaging conference.