Researchers at Stanford University have developed a new technique that allows them to monitor neurons in a live brain for months at a time.
The discovery will allow them to track the tiny changes that occur as progressive brain disease runs its course.
Previously, scientists were able to take a peek at cells of the deep brain, but only for a moment at a time. Since light microscopy can only penetrate the outermost layer of tissues, any area of the brain beyond just 700 microns -- 0.03125 inches -- was out of reach.
Now, researchers can study them in a prolonged manner without damaging the area of interest.
Here's how it works: researchers place tiny glass tubes, just half the width of a grain of rice, in the deep brain of an anesthetized mouse to prevent infection from the outside environment. Then they insert a microendoscope inside a glass guide tube, which has glass windows so that scientists can see the interior of the brain.
The technique offers finer data than a magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, scan, because the guide tubes allow the researcher to return to exactly the same location of the deep brain, at microscopic scale.
Research into brain disease such as cancer and the neuroscience of memory both stand to benefit from the technique, the researchers say.
Here's a look in a video:
Their work will be published in the February 2011 issue of the journal Nature Medicine.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com