Yes, that’s a see-through mouse you are looking at. And yes, it’s pretty gross, but thankfully, no, it’s not alive. The transparent mouse represents a breakthrough for scientists at the California Institute of Technology who say that it will lead to a better understanding of the relationships between nervous systems and organs through “whole-organism mapping.” Despite the queasiness factor, the technique has the potential to aid research into a variety of health issues, including autism, chronic pain and the development of cancerous cells.

The Caltech team recently published details of their technique in the journal “Cell.” In their summary they state: “Understanding the structure-function relationships at cellular, circuit, and organ-wide scale requires 3D anatomical and phenotypical maps, currently unavailable for many organs across species. At the root of this knowledge gap is the absence of a method that enables whole-organ imaging. Herein, we present techniques for tissue clearing in which whole organs and bodies are rendered macromolecule-permeable and optically transparent, thereby exposing their cellular structure with intact connectivity.”

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The four apparently inexpensive techniques used in the process involve taking a euthanized mouse, skinning it, then pumping a cocktail of chemicals through its blood vessels, brain and spinal cord. Some chemicals wash out opaque fat cells that block the view of internal organs and the nervous system, others form a gelatinous substance that holds everything in place in a mouse-like form. It takes two weeks to make a normal mouse become see-through. While previous research has concentrated on single organs or embryos, this is the first time an entire organism has been successfully rendered transparent.

The advantage of the technique is that the interconnectivity of the mouse’s — and eventually no doubt, human’s — various systems is preserved. Scientists no longer have to remove organs, blood vessels and delicate nervous systems and then try to fit them back together outside of the original body. This will allow for much greater accuracy in mapping and understanding the relationships between internal structures without the risk of damaging organs and cells as current techniques tend to do. Potential research breakthroughs as a result of the new technique include improving existing therapies and the development of completely new ones.

Via The Independent

Images by Eselvier Inc. via Cell