Shared MR microscopy data provide powerful new research tool

March 11, 2002

University researchers have found a way to produce 3D magnetic resonance microscopy (MRM) images of mice at more than 250,000 times greater resolution than standard MRIs. The Duke University project -- Visible Mouse -- is designed to explore the

University researchers have found a way to produce 3D magnetic resonance microscopy (MRM) images of mice at more than 250,000 times greater resolution than standard MRIs.

The Duke University project - Visible Mouse - is designed to explore the morphological effects of genetically altered mice. Investigators traditionally use mouse models that mimic human maladies to help them decipher human disease etiology and test new drugs. Visible Mouse gives medical researchers a new tool in their efforts to understand and diagnose human disease.

The high resolution of MRM, which is basically MRI at the microscopic level, makes it possible to examine details in extremely small specimens. Using MRM, investigators can study models of disease, toxicology, and the effects of drug therapies using a limited number of living animals, including time course studies of the same animal, according to G. Allan Johnson, Ph.D., director of the Duke Center for In Vivo Microscopy.

Three-D MRM allows investigators to examine specimens as fragile as the developing mouse embryo without the distortion or destruction of traditional sectioning. Pathologists can use MRM to examine whole tissue samples without conventional sectioning.

Work related to the Visible Mouse project, like the National Library of Medicine's Visible Human, is not restricted to a single laboratory. The researchers foresee creating a multitude of MRM images of mice that can then be transmitted to other researchers via high-speed Internet 2 connections. Teams of researchers around the country or even around the world could then electronically dissect the same animal simultaneously, while sharing their insights via videoconferencing.

Since MRM scans are digital, researchers easily download and view comparable slices or 3D views from a multitude of normal and gene-altered animals, Johnson said. Such comparison enables them to locate the same structural landmarks in different animals.

MRM can yield noninvasive and distortion-free 3D histological information in embryos because it probes the water-binding characteristics of tissue using radio-frequency energy. It is no longer necessary to section the specimen, and registration of slices is moot since the specimen is imaged whole.

MRM technology and its potential scientific impact is described in the March 1 issue of Radiology (2002;222(3):789-793).