Modern imaging techniques have long been regarded as a key technology for first-class medical research. At ISAS, the »Bio-Imaging« research programme focuses on the imaging of temporal and spatial molecular dynamics in organisms ranging from individual cells up to entire organs.

For example, the scientists are using light sheet fluorescence microscopy (LSFM), raman microscopy and coherent anti-stokes raman scattering (CARS) microscopy to validate biomarkers in order to accelerate the early detection of various diseases such as cardiovascular diseases or autoimmune diseases. Close cooperation with the Institute for Experimental Immunology and Imaging at the University Hospital in Essen, among other things, should ensure that the results of this basic research can later be translated into the clinic, i.e. transferred from the laboratory to patient care. ISAS researchers also conduct both animal and human testing, take measurements on intact organs, and integrate artificial intelligence in their image analyses.

Combination with complementary analytical technologies

In order to augment the future advancement of the work in the »Bio-Imaging« research programme, ISAS established the Bioimaging research group in 2020. In 2021, the focus was on further building up the research group. It aims to elucidate molecular and cellular processes underlying immunovascular interactions under inflammatory conditions.
The researchers study these cell interactions in acute inflammatory processes such as myocardial infarction and thrombo-inflammation, as well as in chronic autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. In addition to imaging methods such as LSFM, confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) or two-photon laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM) are also used. These facilitate a three-dimensional analysis of biological samples from the cellular to the sub-cellular level. However, in order to characterise morphological and functional changes in inflammatory tissues over time with their underlying molecular mechanisms, scientists at ISAS combine LSFM, CLSM and TPLSM with complementary analytical technologies such as mass spectrometry (MS).

Non-destructive, integrative measurement strategies 

Because not only the amount of a biomolecule in a system, but also its exact spatial location can be decisive for a disease mechanism, the combination of these optical methods with general and spatially resolved MS will open up completely new diagnostic possibilities in future. Many of the imaging techniques mentioned currently still require the destruction of the samples, which often reduces their analysis to a single technique. This is particularly problematic for rare samples, such as human tissue biopsies, as it makes comprehensive analyses impossible. For this reason, ISAS is working in the »Bio-Imaging« programme to coordinate complementary imaging and analytical methods and to combine them in such a way as to develop new, non-destructive, integrative measurement strategies. The development of such a scale-independent multi-method concept, in the form of 4D analytics, should allow spatially and temporally resolved, quantitative, in-vivo analysis at cellular to molecular levels. These technical developments are crucial to comprehensive multi-modal and multi-dimensional analysis and thus for a holistic understanding of biomedically relevant processes. In the future, these new analytical technologies will be integrated into clinical  diagnostics, thus facilitating improved prevention and early  diagnosis as well as personalised approaches to therapy.

New BMBF junior research group AMBIOM

A single sample, depending on the microscope, leads to an average of 500 images. Without artificial intelligence (AI), one would neither be able to evaluate the information profoundly and quickly, nor manage it efficiently. Microscopy is just one of the many fields of application in medical imaging, where AI is continuously revolutionising the processing of enormous amounts of data. To meet the needs of current and future data volumes, ISAS established a junior research group entitled AMBIOM – Analysis of Microscopic BIOMedical Images in 2021. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the junior research group which is led by Dr Jianxu Chen and which focuses on the evaluation and modeling of imaging data.