Stanford researchers find new way to see through a body

CBS San Francisco
CBC San Francisco

Bay Area scientists have developed a new way to look inside a living breathing body. No radiation required. Dr.  Kim Mulvihill reports on how mice are lighting the way.

In a lab tucked in the basement of the science building at Stanford, researcher Sarah Sherlock has shed new light on an old problem.

View the video report.

"I was surprised, I didn't think it was going to look quite like that," she says.

The head of the lab Prof. Hongjie Dai, he too was stunned.

"I was really surprised."

What did the grad student and her team do?

By using a laser light, an infrared camera, and extremely tiny particles the Stanford researchers developed a way to look deeply and with greater clarity into the workings of a living, breathing body.

In this case it was a mouse. First the mouse was sedated. Then the mouse was injected with tiny particles called carbon nanotubes. These nanotubes have an unusual quality. If you shine a light on the mouse the nanotubes circulating inside begin to glow. As they continue to circulate they glow more and more brightly providing a clear crisp image of the animal's internal organs.

"You have the lungs, and the kidneys and then kind of a glowing signal from all over the mouse as the nano tubes go to internal organs and start flowing through the blood," says Sherlock.

Using special software the scientists then came up with a revealing anatomical map.

"We were able to even distinguish organs that you couldn't normally be able to distinguish like the pancreas," says Sherlock.

While CT scans and x-rays reveal more in the body, this method has at least one advantage.

"You are not using radiation which is an upside," says Sherlock.

Not only that, the technology is less expensive.

The Stanford team hopes glowing nanotubes will better track the effectiveness of cancer drugs, and research will one day help patients in the clinic.

"For example if we use nanotubes for drug delivery we will be able to know where the drug is going to in the body," says Dai.

And while the safety of nanotubes is still a big concern,"we have not found any toxicity in mice, all the mice have lived happily, after receiving the nanotubes," says Dai.

Photo captions. A look inside a mouse using nanotubes and special software maps the results (CBS/Stanford).