A team of researchers with Germany’s DESY have developed a way to x-ray living cells, something that provides a better look at the structure and function than traditionally used methods, which involves killing the cell and fixing it with chemicals. The information was detailed in the journal Physical Review Letters.
Though so-called soft x-rays have been able to image living cells, this is a world’s first when it comes to using high-energy x-rays to study the cells. In this particular case, cancer cells were grown on silicon nitrite substrate (which is hardly visible in x-rays). The cells were then exposed to the x-rays for 0.05 seconds per frame, which aims to limit cell damage.
The chemical fixation typically used “freezes” the cell’s organelles and proteins, something that allows for imaging but also causes small changes to its internal structure, something that slightly lessens researchers’ ability to study the cells. By avoiding the freezing process, the amount of change caused by the chemical process can be determined and avoided.
Professor Sarah Koster, who lead the researchers, said, “Thanks to the ever-greater resolution of the various investigative techniques, it is increasingly important to know whether the internal structure of the sample changes during sample preparation.” The ability to take high-energy x-rays of living cells meets such a requirement.