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Hitchhiker's Guide to Human Cells

Fraunhofer IZI is researching improved imaging methods for organoids 

On March 1, 2020, a new research project started at the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI. Using viral and bacterial Targetingsequences, the imaging of living cells should be improved. The project is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation.

Organoids are three-dimensional cell cultures. These organ precursors can be produced in the test tube and make it possible to examine life processes in the human organism outside the body. They are considered to be the best way to bridge the gap between 2D laboratory cultures of human cells and animal experiments.

»The development of organoids has made rapid progress in recent years. However, there is still a lack of analysis tools to continuously examine the processes taking place in the organoids," explains Dr. Claire Fabian. The stem cell biologist at the Fraunhofer IZI heads the project together with Dr. Sebastian Greiser, physicist and head of the Fraunhofer IZI working group Experimental Imaging. As part of "Hitchhiker's guide to the cell," as the project is titled, methods are to be established that make it possible to hitchhike through human cells. Greiser, who contributes his expertise in imaging three-dimensional structures to the project, adds: "We want to develop methods to visualize the spatial and temporal dynamics of complex 3D cell cultures. To do this, we will fine-tune the life science and technical issues throughout the project.”

The project team plans to analyze the specific interactions of viral and bacterial proteins and peptides with cellular components. The scientists then want to use the knowledge gained in this way to develop imaging instruments. In particular, they have organelles in mind for this purpose. These are separate compartments within a cell that perform a specific function, such as the mitochondria, which are responsible for producing energy. If it is possible, according to the idea, to stain specific organelles in living cells, it will be possible to visualize cellular processes in novel and complex 3D cell culture systems and then use them to hitchhike through the cells. Ultimately, the aim is to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology, disease modeling or regenerative research, for example.

The project "Hitchhiker's guide to the cell - Employing viral and bacterial targeting sequences for live cell imaging" is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation funded for a year and a half. The funding is part of the »Experiment! – On the search for daring research ideas”, with which the foundation supports daring research ideas that fundamentally challenge established knowledge.

Source: Press release from the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology Leipzig from March 02, 2020

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