3D images of tissues can help to find cancer earlier, experts say.
A group of researchers from the University of Leeds have created a unique method of making a high-quality colour images of a tissue, damaged by cancer.
The most interesting feature of the findings is that this 3D picture can be easily rotated. The discovery made cancer scanning more effective, researchers claimed.
Cancer Research UK representative said that aforementioned technology might have helped to make a breakthrough in the cancer research, partially because 3D images gave a chance to study the spread of the cancer, how it grows and eventually changes.
As a consequence it might increase the effectiveness of the cancer treatment, an article published in the American Journal of Pathology has noted.
Although the approach itself is not new (10 years ago first scanning method, which uses two-dimensional image of the tissues, was introduced and, since then, widely used in diagnosing cancer), the third dimension gives more opportunities to scan tissues more efficiently.
Before the aforementioned discoveries, doctors had to use kind of biopsy by cutting a thin slice of the tissue and looking at it under the microscope.
Both of older methods had its flaws, said Dr Derek Magee, one of the experts involved in a study. He noted that because of apparently three-dimensional nature of the tissue, the new discovery was crucial for precise study of the human tissues.
Also the 3D image approach has a number of serious implications for the brain tissues where the conventional two-dimensional image.
Before a realistic 3D image is generated, the software stacks all the virtual slides together. A 3D image could help provide much more information than a simple 2D scan.
To create one, a piece of tissue must be cut with an ultra-precise machine called microtome into hundreds of very thin slices. Each slice is then put onto a 1mm-thick piece of glass and loaded into a digital scanner.
The scanner then creates 2D impressions of each cross-section, and this is where the new technology comes into play.
The software developed by the Leeds University team generates a three-dimensional shape from these virtual slides, creating a realistic image that a researcher can manipulate and spin around.
It is the same with organs, added Dr Magee - if a surgeon wants to remove a tumour near a very sensitive organ, the main question is about the safety of the procedure.
It is also possible to reconstruct 3D images of whole sections - as seen with this mouse embryo, created with 200 slides.
This technology could help researchers understand more about the disease, and how to treat it more effectively, said Dr Kat Arney, science information manager at Cancer Research UK.
"We're beginning to understand just how complex cancer is," she told the BBC. "A tumour is a complex three-dimensional 'organ' made of cancerous and healthy cells, including blood vessels, immune cells and other 'normal' cells".
"It will be fascinating to see how this exciting new technique is taken forward by cancer researchers, and what secrets it can yield about the disease". In the past, there have been attempts to create 3D images of tissue samples.
But the images were low resolution and hence not very detailed, generated after taking photos of slides on a microscope with a camera, one by one, and then assembling them digitally. But the Leeds University team said that their approach was the first time a standard digital scanner had been used to produce high-resolution images.
"Up until now, the use of 3D imaging technology to study disease has been limited because of low resolution, and the time and difficulty associated with acquiring large numbers of images with a microscope," said lead researcher Dr Darren Treanor.
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