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Expansion Microscopy

January 20, 2015

Technology used to absorb water in diapers is also being used to blow up tiny tissues to make them more viewable by microscopes.




Mouse brain tissue, imaged using standard microscopy (F) and through expansion microscopy technique (G), revealing enhanced detail. (Boyden [email protected] MIT)

Super-sizing tissue samples. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Many structures in cells are so small that they’re difficult to see, even with the best optical microscopes. So researchers at MIT decided to blow them up. In the journal Science, they report using a water-absorbing polymer commonly used in baby diapers to expand a tissue sample without the internal structure pulling apart. Paul Tillberg was on the team.


With this technology, the polymer network extends four to five times in all three dimensions evenly. So the relative shape of the structures you want to look at stays the same, it’s just bigger.


The jumbo-sized sample can then be viewed with existing microscopes. The technique could be especially useful in studying the fine structure of brain tissue. The team is already worked with tissue from mice, zebrafish and fruitflies, and is collaborating with another team on human tissue.  I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.