Imaging the Future: How Researchers are Advancing Imaging Science

Scientific imaging is vital to understanding health and disease. Imaging technology allows researchers to study the building blocks of life — tissues, cells and proteins — and unlock new knowledge about how to prevent disease. To make big breakthroughs in biomedical science, we need to keep advancing tools that scientists use to see life across these scales.

CZI’s Imaging program supports biologists and technology experts, improved imaging tools and expanded access to these tools, and increased training and community building. We’re pushing the frontiers of imaging by supporting 13 new cutting-edge imaging technologies that will allow researchers to view the inner workings of cells in real time, deep within the body and in unprecedented detail. We’re also supporting 22 new imaging scientists, who play a critical role in developing and sharing advanced imaging technologies.

To highlight the important work of our imaging grantees, we’re spotlighting their contributions to imaging science on our social media channels from January 25–29. Join us in celebrating those who are working to advance imaging science by sharing on social media using the hashtag #ImagingTheFuture.

Read on to view stunning images and videos and learn what they reveal of our inner workings:

Open Dissemination of Novel Imaging Tools for the Research Community

Uri Manor, Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Left: Image of the actin cytoskeleton, the “muscle” of the cell, which allows cells to move and divide, and mitochondria, one of the most important organelles in the cell. Right: The inner ear cells of a mouse. Photos by Uri Manor, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Core.

Many diseases, including hearing loss, are caused by damage to mitochondria and mitochondrial DNA. Imaging scientist Uri Manor is developing new microscopy tools, such as nanobody-based probes and deep learning-based image processing methods. These techniques will help image the cytoskeleton and mitochondria and allow researchers to understand how damage to mitochondrial DNA is communicated to the cell. Manor is also using advanced imaging approaches to determine how the cochlea responds to gene therapy, which could enable deaf people to hear.

“As an imaging scientist, I am delighted by the beautiful structures of the inner ear stereocilia. As a hearing impaired person, I am passionate about turning our research into something that can be used to treat this disability.” -Uri Manor

Widening the Lens: Illuminating Talent with Immersive Microscopy Education

Bryan Millis, Vanderbilt University

Video of live kidney cells by biologist and engineer Bryan Millis, Vanderbilt University, Cell Imaging Shared Resource and the Vanderbilt Biophotonics Center.

Biologist and engineer Bryan Millis aims to train students across the world in the latest imaging technology, with the goal of expanding imaging expertise to students of all backgrounds. This mesmerizing timelapse video shows how actin-rich protrusions move across cell surfaces in live kidney cells. These protrusions are critical in the formation of complex cell structures, such as those in the kidney and intestine, where large surface areas enable efficient exchange of fluids, nutrients, and waste products. Videos like this help researchers better understand how complex cell structures in our organs form and function, and require advanced imaging technology that can produce up to hundreds of thousands of images per experiment.

Democratizing Imaging for Infectious Disease Research in Africa

Caron Jacobs, University of Cape Town

This superresolution image shows receptor molecules on the surface of a T-cell (cyan) and HIV particles bound to the cell membrane (magenta), allowing researchers to see how viruses impact cells. Photo by Caron Jacobs, University of Cape Town, Confocal and Light Microscope Imaging Facility.

Microscopy drives discovery and translational research in many aspects of human biology and disease research. Despite the disproportionate disease burden across Africa, access to high-end microscopy facilities and dedicated local expertise is severely limited. Caron Jacobs works with local researchers in South Africa studying infectious diseases such as TB, malaria, and HIV to design novel imaging assays they can use to address important questions about pathogens and diseases. She is also developing training and internship programs to democratize imaging technology for infectious disease researchers across Africa.

Enabling a New Type of Microscopy for Ultradeep Imaging

Randy Bartels, Colorado State University

Photo of a canine intestine by Randy Bartels, Colorado State University.

While this might look like an abstract painting, it’s actually a high resolution image that shows one of the many finger-like projections of a canine intestine. The white scale bar is smaller than the width of a human hair! Captivating and informative images like these are made possible by advanced microscopy tools and techniques, such as optical lenses and lasers.

“Optical and biomedical microscopy are undergoing a revolution. My goal is to unscramble the mysteries of light in order to illuminate the mysteries of life.” -Randy Bartels

Randy Bartels and his team at Colorado State University are working to develop new imaging technologies to help render what was previously hidden now visible to scientists.

Single-Cell Photoacoustic Molecular Imaging at Centimeter Depth

Song Hu, Washington University in St. Louis

High-resolution photoacoustic microscopy of the blood flow in a live mouse brain by Song Hu, Washington University in St. Louis.

“I decided to enter the field of imaging science to contribute to the advancement of human health through technological innovations.” -Song Hu

What if researchers could view cells deep inside the brain in real time? It could revolutionize brain research — revealing complex brain-wide interactions across neurons that drive normal behavior and that go awry in neurological and psychiatric disorders. A team of researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, led by Song Hu, is working to build a new photoacoustic imaging technology that combines light and ultrasound and would allow researchers to view live tissue deep inside the human body at the cellular level. If successful, this new technology could unlock new understanding about neuroscience.

Developing a National Center for Doctoral Training in Microscopy

Kerry Thompson, National University of Ireland Galway

Confocal fluorescence image of cells lining the womb. Image by Kerry Thompson, National University of Ireland Galway, Centre for Microscopy and Imaging.

Bright fluorescent colors can be used to show internal structures that make up the microscopic components of our bodies or provide information on disease development and progression. This confocal fluorescence image by Kerry Thompson provides scientific insights into how short-term exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals affect the cells that line the womb — showing the nucleus (blue), actin cytoskeleton (yellow) and estrogen receptor Alpha and G protein-coupled estrogen receptor (red and green).

Thompson is working to develop Ireland’s first national center for training in microscopy and related technology, with a focus on open science methods, to train the next generation of imaging scientists.

“The inherent variety and beauty in what we do is what makes this science so relatable to the public, who often admire the artistic qualities of the images without necessarily needing to understand what is being observed.” -Kerry Thompson

Developing an Advanced Bioimaging Core in Latin America

Leonel Malacrida, Institut Pasteur de Montevideo-Universidad de la República del Uruguay

Video of a fibroblast from a mouse labeled with a membrane dye using time-resolved multiphoton microscopy by Leonel Malacrida, Institut Pasteur de Montevideo-Universidad de la República del Uruguay, Advanced Bioimaging Unit.

Imaging has been a cornerstone of scientific discovery for centuries. Imaging tools have come a long way since the invention of the microscope in the 16th century and in the past two decades, we’ve seen rapid advancements. Leonel Malacrida is bringing state-of-the-art imaging technologies — such as time-resolved, hyperspectral, and fluorescence fluctuation spectroscopy — to Uruguay to advance researchers’ understanding of living cells. This new facility will provide imaging services throughout the country and Latin America, as well as training in modern imaging and analysis methods for the next generation of scientists.

“I’m working to bring advanced imaging technologies and tools to my community here in Uruguay and share infrastructure and knowledge with researchers.” -Leonel Malacrida

Malacrida captured this movie of fibroblast cells, which are important for healing wounds, using time-resolved fluorescence microscopy and multiphoton excitation. He’s also building two new specialized multiphoton microscopes for deep tissue imaging in scattering samples.

Advancing Multi-Scale Imaging to Catalyze Biomedical Research

James Fitzpatrick, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Photo of fluorescence markers illuminating cells in a mouse brain by James Fitzpatrick, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Center for Cellular Imaging.

A rainbow of colors illuminate the different cells in a mouse brain in this fluorescence microscopy image by James Fitzpatrick. By tagging these inhibitory and excitatory neurons using fluorescence markers, scientists can generate a map of an entire piece of brain tissue at cellular-level resolution. Fitzpatrick develops new microscopy techniques to aid in the study of cancer, protein aggregation, and neurodegeneration.

“I derive a lot of joy from developing targeted tools and workflows to help researchers in their quest to answer a specific biomedical question.” -James Fitzpatrick

Training and Mentoring Imaging Scientists and Building Imaging Communities

Claire Brown, McGill University, Advanced BioImaging Facility

TIRF microscopy imaging of paxillin-EGFP in CHO-K1 cells by Claire M. Brown, McGill University, Advanced BioImaging Facility.

This video shows cells migrating and dividing — isn’t science awe-inspiring? Witnessing science in action like this is only possible because of advances in imaging technology and the imaging scientists who drive these innovations forward.

Claire Brown is training and mentoring the next generation of imaging science experts to help researchers accelerate the pace of research. She is creating train-the-trainer programs to directly train imaging scientists in advanced microscopy technologies, including light sheet microscopy, high content imaging, and artificial intelligence and machine learning for quantitative image analysis and data management.

Computational Microscopy with Multiple-Scattering Samples

Shwetadwip Chowdhury, University of Texas at Austin

3D tomographic rendering of embryos from the nematode worm C. elegans by Shwetadwip Chowdhury, University of Texas at Austin.

CZI Deep Tissue Imaging grantee Shwetadwip Chowdhury is part a team developing new computational microscopy techniques for reconstructing a sample’s 3D light scattering potential, in order to completely characterize the multiple-scattering behavior of light that passes through a sample and use it to digitally correct scattering effects. This new technology will allow researchers to use 3D refractive index (RI) microscopy to image more types of biological samples, such as dense cell clusters or multicellular organisms. Chowdhury and others designed this new optical system so that researchers can easily add these hardware modifications to existing fluorescence microscopes and enable multimodal imaging.

Have a cool microscopy image or video that you captured in your research? Share it on Twitter and Instagram with #ImagingTheFuture.

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Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Science

Supporting the science and technology that will make it possible to cure, prevent, or manage all diseases by the end of the century.