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See-Through Organs Allow Researchers To See Trouble Spots Inside Body

PASADENA ( — Treatments for Parkinson's disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer's and even some cancers may soon receive a tremendous enhancement after local scientists have discovered a way to make organs transparent.

Scientists at Caltech in Pasadena devised a method to make animal organs transparent, with the hopes of better understanding how a disease causes damage.

"You want to have optical access," researcher Viviana Gradinaru said. "You want your microscope to be able to look to the deepest tissues possible."

Researchers were able to achieve organ transparency by dissolving the coating of fat that surrounds the organ's cells. That fatty coating is what makes body parts opaque, and once it is gone, the organs appear transparent.

Essentially, the organs held their original form, and with no fatty layer to block the view, scientists are able to see inside.

"It could have applications in cancer, in gene therapy, also in neurodegeneration, Parkinson's or Alzheimer's," Gradinaru said.

Currently, doctors study X-rays or MRIs to detect what might be happening with an illness. Most suspicions lead to a biopsy, in which doctors create hundreds of thin slides to examine cells, one layer at a time.

The process is tedious.

Gradinaru argues that the discovery may lead to more proficient methods of detection.

"If instead you can see through tissue and know exactly where the degenerated cells are, you can design ways to cope with that," Gradinaru said.

With the discovery of organ transparency, doctors may be able to see right through lungs, intestines, skin cancers or potentially tumors.

Doctors say they are most excited about the possibilities for spinal cord and brain studies. Scientists are now able to see entire circuits in mice, which may eventually lead to more knowledge about our own brain functions.

"That's why you cannot remember things, (or) that's why you start to tremor," Gradinaru said, discussing the idea of discovering what causes certain cerebral deficiencies. "It's very important for us to know where those cells are, because that tells us what circuit malfunctioned, and what we should do to intervene."

Ultimately, doctors are enthusiastic over the prospects the discovery of organ transparency may present.

"We are very excited about it."

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