New mass spectral imaging maps cell composition in 3D at over 100x resolution

A one-of-a-kind mass spectral imaging instrument built at Colorado State University (CSU) lets scientists map cellular composition in three dimensions at a nanoscale image resolution of 75 nanometers wide and 20 nanometers deep, more than 100 times higher resolution than was earlier possible.
The instrument may be able to observe how well experimental drugs penetrate and are processed by cells as new medications are developed to combat disease, customize treatments for specific cell types in specific conditions, identify the sources of pathogens propagated for bioterrorism, or investigate new ways to overcome antibiotic resistance among patients with surgical implants, according to professor Dean Crick of the CSU Mycobacteria Research Laboratories.
Crick’s primary research interest is tuberculosis, an infectious respiratory disease that contributes to an estimated 1.5 million deaths around the world each year. “We’ve developed a much more refined instrument,” Crick said. “It’s like going from using a dull knife to using a scalpel. You could soak a cell in a new drug and see how it’s absorbed, how quickly, and how it affects the cell’s chemistry.”
The earlier generation of laser-based mass-spectral imaging could identify the chemical composition of a cell and could map its surface in two dimensions at microscale (about one micrometer), but could not chart cellular anatomy at more-detailed nanoscale dimensions and in 3-D, Crick said.