German researchers have created 3D technology to view every micrometer of an entire human organ. The unprecedented imaging technique called SHANEL allows for scientists to label tissues on a deep level and clear large organs such as the brain and kidney.

Using deep learning, SHANEL analyzes cellular and molecular architecture that takes mere hours. It requires removing pigment and fats from organs and a large specialized microscope to take photos. In a recent issue of Cell, the method’s developers explain that the technology is still fairly conceptual and needs further research for it to fully come to life.

The researchers studied the challenges typically presented when analyzing human organs. It’s difficult to deeply examine antibodies and other large molecules lodged deep into tissue due to the accumulation of insoluble macromolecules. To rectify this, the researchers used CHAPS, a zwitterionic detergent that creates tiny holes in the organs, allowing the tissue to absorb a solution that safely makes it transparent.

They also collaborated with biotech company Miltenyi Biotec to create a fluorescent microscope that can image large parts of tissue. With those images generated from the microscope, the researchers were able to identify and map millions of cells in just a few hours. “It’s a task that would take 100 years by hand, and now takes hours,” said Ali Ertürk, the senior author of the study.

Understanding how chemically rendering organs transparent impacts the health of the tissue is the next step for SHANEL. The researchers also need to do further evaluations on the method’s accuracy. “It remains to be demonstrated that the tissue-clearing approach presented in the paper reaches the same precision, reliability, and reproducibility that established [methods] have,” said director of the Institute for Neuroscience and Medicine at Forschungszentrum Juelich, Katrin Amunts, MD.

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