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Bio-optics Breakthroughs Conference to Be Held in San Jose

by Lynn Shapiro, Writer | September 30, 2009

DIGITAL CAMERA SEES A SHARPER MIND

Try as you might, you can never hold perfectly still--your body will twitch and jerk with movements nearly invisible to the eye. And if you're a patient in a hospital or the subject of a research study, this squirming will blur the images created by scanning devices like MRI machines, limiting their ability to spot minute details.

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Chester Wildey of the University of Texas, Dallas, is working on a way to detect and compensate for these slight movements using a modified digital camera. The camera tracks a pair of glasses worn by the subject and records minute movements of the head.

"Using a regular 640 by 480 camera, we can detect movement down to a micron," says Wildey. "You can't see movement that small with your eye." Image processing software developed by his group crunches this data in real time, allowing scanners to be adjusted and achieve better resolution.

The technology has been used by researchers in Texas looking for evidence in the brain for Gulf War syndrome, a controversial physical illness. He believes that the technology could help researchers looking for other subtle changes in the brain -- such as those studying the neurological basis of attention deficit disorder.

The camera is also being adapted to measure a person's heartbeat from a distance by recording slight movements in tabs attached to the pulsing skin. Wildey hopes that this may lead to a way to detect atherosclerosis by comparing heartbeats in different parts of the body. (Paper FWR3, "Head tracking for Real-Time Motion Correction in the MRI Environment Using a Single Camera" is at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 14; Paper JWC9, "Real Time Optical Vibrocardiography Using Image Processing" is at noon on Wednesday, October 12).

FOLLOWING SINGLE MOLECULES IN LIVE NEURONS

Peripheral nerves are the organic wires that connect the command centers in the brain to the muscles and other tissues they control. Understanding how these nerves function is of critical importance because of their central role in many human diseases. Now a group of researchers at Stanford University has designed a way to observe one critical aspect of peripheral nerve function -- the transport of essential proteins and other materials from one end of a nerve fiber to another.

Because they can snake several feet from the spinal cord to the extremities, peripheral nerves are often quite long--sometimes 100,000 times longer than other cells in the body. The transportation of materials along this entire length is an extremely long and complicated process that can take days or even weeks. Studying this process has always been a complicated proposition, but Bianxiao Cui and her Stanford colleagues have demonstrated a new way of observing this transport by tagging single molecules, called nerve growth factors, with "quantum dots" that can be followed with a powerful microscope as they move along live neurons.