Imaging the Future
Thank you for investing in the research of bone imaging for undergraduate students! Though this campaign is complete, you can still join the team and make a difference by contributing here: http://asufoundation.org/imaging. Science has worked hand in hand with the medical profession over the years to gain a clearer picture of how humans and other vertebrates function. Research has led to the visualization of infinitesimally small structures, such as tissues and their inner workings. Successful research in this area used to come at the expense of the study subject, or human. Now, scientists and medical professionals must find ways to detect the previously undetectable without harm to the patient in order to make an accurate diagnosis of a condition. From your contributions, students will utilize the latest in visualization technology leading to a profound impact in modern science and medicine.
We are full-time undergraduate science majors enrolled at Arizona State University in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. In the laboratory of Dr. Lara Ferry, we conduct our own independent research projects using cutting-edge visualization tools to help us to identify novel or abnormal bones, muscles, or other tissue complexes. Our research uses very small vertebrates (fishes) the size of a finger, such as this fish shown below capturing a smaller food fish. This event is captured using high speed video recording at 500 frames per second in order to visualize an event that is otherwise nearly undetectable to the naked eye.
In order to understand what is happening here, we need visualization tools that can see structures that incredibly small, beneath the skin that is apparent here. We are using microMRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and microCT (computed tomagraphy) to address this need. With these tools, we can visualize the small and complex anatomical structures underlying the skin without harm to the specimen (non-destructively). Below is a fish whose skeleton has been visualized using microCT.
How it works:
A CT scan, such as the one shown here, works the same on fish as it does on you or I should we need such a scan as part of our medical care (on the right is a stack of brain images from a medical CT). A CT scan is basically a series of X-ray images stacked up on one another to recreate a three-dimensional image of the subject. The quality of the resultant image depends upon how many slices, or different X-ray layers, are taken through the specimen. The number of layers is directly proportional to the time, and the cost, of the image acquisition. More layers means a higher resolution image but at the cost of more time and more money. What makes our scanning more unique is that it is 'micro', meaning it can focus on very small areas of interest. This, however, requires very high resolution, and therefore lots of time.
A MRI is similar in concept but uses magnetic waves to create the image instead of X-rays. This is useful for softer tissues, like muscle or brain, in contrast to CT which is useful on harder, denser tissues such as bone. On the left, above, is a still image of one layer of the soft tissue in a fish head. The tip of the snout is pointing up. On the right is a video loop of an MRI of a human brain (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).
Why this technology?
With this approach we are making incredible advances in our ability to understand and to diagnose function. We can identify and describe in new and vivid detail abnormalities as well as novelties. We can determine functional consequences of these structures like never before. We can do all of this in a non-destructive manner, meaning it can be used on live animals, or delicate museum specimens that have been previously unstudied. Ultimately we are gaining new and exciting information and taking our understanding deeper than ever before.
We often use fishes as a study subject because they are incredibly interesting and complex. Fishes are the oldest of the vertebrates, and the most diverse. Fishes have over 100 separate bones in their heads and dozens of mobile elements. Humans have one mobile element, the lower jaw. Depsite these differences, fishes and humans are both vertebrates, meaning they share the same evolutionary origins and are remarkably similar in structural composition (bone, muscle, etc.). What we learn from fishes using these tools has direct applicability to humans.
You can learn more about the kinds of work we do at our lab website: http://morphology.asu.edu/