Expanding the Frontiers of Imaging
New RFA Supports Technology Development for Understanding Life at the Cellular Level
The microscope was invented in the 16th century, but it took another 200 years for scientists to appreciate its role in medicine. The invention of the X-ray machine in 1895 was another breakthrough that solidified the important role of imaging in human health diagnostics. Further advances in imaging technology — such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT) scans, and ultrasound — have allowed us to explore the inner workings of the human body to amazing extents. CT scans have been used to diagnose cases of coronavirus by revealing white spots on the lung, while MRI scans allow clinicians to diagnose tumors and certain sports injuries like a torn ACL. Yet to cure, prevent, or manage all diseases by the end of the century, we need a much deeper mechanistic understanding of biological systems.
Current tools provide a limited view of biological systems and tend to focus on a specific biological scale (such as proteins, cells, or tissues) in an often artificial context, like isolated proteins or extracted cells. To advance the field of imaging, we need to push the boundaries of what biological processes we can visualize and measure. This means imaging across biological scales and in the necessary context, such as viewing protein interactions inside a cell or cell signaling in the living system — tasks that are mostly beyond current capabilities.
Overcoming existing barriers to visualization and measurement will require significant technical and computational advances. New, high-resolution imaging technology could allow researchers to watch cell division or growth, such as tumor growth, deep within the human body in real time and in a minimally invasive way. Such advances would open up new insights for understanding cellular processes, and for developing treatments and cures for many diseases.