A New View of Cancer Cells

By Meghan Bialt-DeCelie ’19

Live cancer cells can now be seen in detail without affecting their behavior with meSPIM (microenvironmental selective plane illumination 

Most scientists study live cancer cell samples by preparing them on a glass slide and coverslip. However, this method often compresses the sample. Since cancer cells are very sensitive to their surroundings, the compression of the slide affects their behavior and may interfere with the results and overall understanding of cancer cell interactions.

Researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center have designed a method, called microenvironmental selective plane illumination microscopy (meSPIM) that promises to take care of this issue. meSPIM works by shooting lasers at a block of collagen containing the cancer cells to activate fluorescence.  It was able to produce a time-lapsed three-dimensional image of cancer cells while maintaining a controlled microenvironment of the sample and could even detect features as small as 300 nanometers.

With this new technology, researchers can more accurately study cell interactions and signaling without affecting the sample with the confinement of a glass slide. Scientists were able to see crucial interactions in cell signaling between cancerous and noncancerous tissue. The meSPIM provides images for researchers who wish to see the true behavior of a cell without it being squashed under a glass slide and forming air bubbles or other bulges.



  1. Erik S. Welf, et al., Quantitative multiscale cell imaging in controlled 3D microenvironments. Developmental Cell (2016).
  2. Image Acquired from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancer_cell
  3. N. Rogers, Now in 3D! Microscope offers new way to view live cancer cells. Science Daily (2016).

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