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Embryos exposed in 3-D

Utah and Texas researchers combined miniature medical CT scans with high-tech computer methods to produce detailed three-dimensional images of mouse embryos an efficient new method to test the safety of medicines and learn how mutant genes cause birth defects or cancer.

"Our method provides a fast, high-quality and inexpensive way to visually explore the 3-D internal structure of mouse embryos so scientists can more easily and quickly see the effects of a genetic defect or chemical damage," says Chris Johnson, a distinguished professor of computer science at the University of Utah.

A study reporting development of the new method known as "microCT-based virtual histology" was published recently in PLoS Genetics, an online journal of the Public Library of Science.

The study was led by Charles Keller, a pediatric cancer specialist who formerly worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of University of Utah geneticist Mario Capecchi. Keller now is an assistant professor at the Children's Cancer Research Institute at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

University of Utah co-authors of the study are Johnson who directs the university's Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute Capecchi, medical student Mark S. Hansen and several members of Johnson's institute: computer science undergraduate Thomas Johnson III, research assistant Lindsey Healey and former associate director Greg M. Jones, who now is state science advisor to Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

Scientists often use mouse embryos both to learn what genes do and to test the safety of new drugs and household chemicals. By disabling or "knocking out" a gene, researchers can see what goes wrong in the mouse embryo and thus learn the gene's normal function, or learn how a mutant gene can cause cancer. Mouse embryos also are sensitive to toxicity from chemicals, so new medicines and chemicals are tested on them to see if any defects develop
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4-May-2006


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