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The researchers adapted the microscopes to take 3D images of cells in real time

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There is a limit to what can be learned about cells from 2D images, but create them 3D images it is a time intensive process. Now, scientists are UT Southwest to get developed a new “simple and economical” device capable of capturing multi-angle photos that can be modified on existing laboratory microscopes. The team says its solution – which involves inserting a unit of two rotating mirrors in front of a microscope’s camera – is 100 times faster than converting images from 2D to 3D.

Currently, this process involves collecting hundreds of photos of a sample that can be loaded as a stack of images into a graphics software program, which then executes computers to provide many viewing perspectives. Even with a powerful computer, these two steps can be very time consuming. But, using their optical device, the team found that they could skip this whole method.

In addition, they say their approach is even faster since it requires a single exposure to the camera instead of the hundreds of camera frames used to stack entire 3D images. They discovered the technique while removing images captured by two common light-leaf microscopes. While experimenting with their optical method, they realized that when they used the wrong amount of distortion the projected image seemed to rotate.

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“This has been the moment!” Said Reto Fiolka, assistant professor in the Lyda Hill Bioinformatics Department at UT Southwestern. “We understood that this could be greater than just an optical distortion method; that the system could work for other types of microscopes as well.”

Using their modified microscope, the team imagined calcium ions that carry signals between nerve cells in a culture plate and guarded the circulatory system of a zebrafish embryo. They also quickly imagined moving cancer cells and a beating heart of zebrafish. They also applied the optical unit to additional microscopes, including confocal microscopy of light and rotating sheets.

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