“5, 4, 3, 2, 1…and we’re live!”

Live-cell imaging.

Scientists and researchers in various biological fields use a specialized technique to advance their chosen topic of interest.

But, how does live-cell imaging work and what does it entail?

Read on to find out more!

What is Live-Cell Imaging?

Live-cell imaging refers to a technique that captures cells (alive) in real-time. This helps us further understand cells’ structure and function in their natural states. Such knowledge drives progress in fields like neuroscience, pharmacology, cell biology, and cancer research.

Thus, this unique imaging approach requires healthy living cells to accurately depict what occurs at their molecular level. In other words, experts must maintain sustainable environments, media, and imaging chambers.

What’s in the Media?

Media in biology references whatever substance(s), material(s), mixture(s) cells/samples grow in. Hence, failure to ensure the correct media means failure for cells to grow (a requirement for live-cell imaging).

Cells respond to the following media factors:

  • pH
  • Buffering capacity
  • Osmolarity

Osmolarity refers to solute (smaller components dissolved within something else) within the overall media. Buffering capacity refers to how much acid or base we can add to something before the pH changes. All of these factors impact how cells appear, behave, and express themselves.

We can buy various devices to optimize growth, cultures, etc. For example, scientists and researchers can use xona chips for neuroscience research (learn about xona chips here).

What’s in the Environment?

The environment cells grow in matters just as much as what they grow in. We want steady, consistent environmental conditions when cells undergo imaging. Scientists and researchers monitor these variables:

  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Gas

Cells also function under some optimal temperature, like the humans they make up, do. Certain materials or equipment also expand or contract under different temperatures. Humidity affects osmolarity since too much humidity can cause evaporation.

Additionally, gases like carbon dioxide help manage pH. Optimal pH allows cells to function at their best.

Shining Light on Cells

We need light sources when we observe cells. Yet, too much light for too long can damage cell samples and/or cause cells to change in some way.

We may resolve this issue when we choose imaging techniques that have high signal-to-noise ratios. This just means that we want high-quality images for a short time.

Scientists accomplish this through several means, such as with high numerical aperture objectives.

What Does This Mean for Live-Cell Imaging?

Overall, live-cell imaging promises widespread potential for various biological fields. It allows us to gain more comprehensive insight about crucial components that comprise us, as humans. The better we understand how cells function, the better we can create innovative solutions to issues that concern us, today (e.g., disease).

That said, it still requires other measures that traditional imaging techniques lack. Live-cell imaging means that we deal with living cells, so we must foster conditions that can sustain such samples.

Like this topic? Then, check out our other articles for more fascinating finds!