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A new microscope system can image living tissue in real time and in molecular detail, without any chemicals or dyes. The system uses precisely tailored pulses of light to simultaneously image with multiple wavelengths. This enables the researchers to study concurrent processes within cells and tissue and could give cancer researchers a new tool for tracking tumor progression and physicians new technology for tissue pathology and diagnostics.

The microscope images living tissue in real time and molecular detail. (Credit: Stephen Boppart)

The technique, called simultaneous label-free autofluorescence multi-harmonic microscopy, differs from standard tissue pathology in several ways. First, it is used on living tissue, even inside a living being, giving it the potential to be used for clinical diagnosis or to guide surgery in the operating room. Second, it uses no dyes or chemicals, only light. Standard procedure involves removing a tissue sample and adding chemical stains — which can be a lengthy process — and the chemicals can disrupt the cells.

The researchers saw that the cells near the tumor had differences in metabolism and morphology, indicating that the cells had been recruited by the cancer.

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