Shared Resource: Optical Molecular Imaging and Analysis

February 10, 2015
By: William Alexander, Writer, DCI

Gabi Hanna, MD, associate director of the Optical Molecular Imaging and Analysis; and Mark Dewhirst, PhD, DVM; and Greg Palmer, PhD, co-directors of the Optical Molecular Imaging and Analysis shared resource.Of all the resources available to aid in cancer research, luciferase–a group of enzymes responsible for the bioluminescent activity of fireflies and other glowing animals–seem like an unlikely candidate.

Yet at the DCI’s Optical Molecular Imaging and Analysis shared resource, luciferase is fueling a variety of cancer-related research. Using a technique called bioluminescence imaging, researchers can insert the genes for luciferase into a tumor in a live mouse, causing the tumor to literally glow in the dark. While not visible to the human eye, the light the tumor produces can be easily captured by specially equipped cameras, allowing an accurate picture of how tumors grow, spread throughout the body, and respond to therapies.

The use of luciferase is one of several technologies available at the Optical Molecular Imaging and Analysis shared resource. Window chamber services surgically implant a glass window onto a live mouse subject, allowing a user to visually or microscopically track how a tumor or organ progresses over time. A microsurgery suite, set to open this spring, will allow for greater manipulation and observation of organs, tissues and tumors.

Kamesh Krishnamurthy, Duke University Medical Scientist Training Program, GS3, uses the IVIS Spectrum for high-sensitivity in vivo imaging of fluorescence and bioluminescence in measuring levels of neuro-inflamation in a mouse model.Other available resources include fluorescent probes that allow analysis of specific parts of tumors and hypoxia chambers to control oxygen levels around samples. While these technologies differ in their origin and use, they all have features in common: they are noninvasive, reliable, and function in live animal models, allowing for research to be conducted in a dynamic, “real-world” setting.

“My philosophy is ‘seeing is believing,’ and we’re trying to take that philosophy as far as possible,” said Gabi Hanna, MD, associate director of the Optical Molecular Imaging and Analysis shared resource. “With optical molecular imaging, you can look at live single cells in a microscope, or you can study a tumor, or look at the liver, pancreas, or other organs.”

Hanna, along with resource co-directors Mark Dewhirst, PhD, DVM, and Greg Palmer, PhD, are eager to share this philosophy with others. In addition to providing assistance with microsurgery and other equipment, they also work with users to design experiments, measure variables, and interpret results to best meet users’ needs and take advantage of the shared resource’s capabilities.

“We love a challenge,” Hanna said. “We want anyone with a new model or who has a new experimental model to think about ways we can help,” Hanna said.

One of these users was Oliver Glass, a graduate student studying the effects of structured exercise training on breast cancer progression for his thesis. Using the Optical Molecular Imaging and Analysis shared resource, Glass was able to track how exercise affected tumor growth in three distinct mouse models of breast cancer. Preliminary results indicate that exercise could have different levels of benefits in mouse models of breast cancer, depending on the molecular features of the tumor.

“The people at the Optical Molecular Imaging and Analysis shared resource have been a fantastic help,” Glass said. “In addition to helping with imaging, I could come to them with any question, whether about how to put mice under anesthesia or what sort of data I should expect.”

The Optical Molecular Imaging and Analysis shared resource has locations in the Medical Science Research Building (MSRB), Genome Sciences Research Building (GSRB) II, and Cancer Center Isolation Facility (CCIF). Fees are charged at an hourly rate, depending on the instruments used and the degree of assistance needed. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, visit the shared resource’s official webpage.

Circle photo: As shared resource co-directors Mark Dewhirst, PhD, DVM, and Greg Palmer, PhD, look on Gabi Hanna, MD, associate director of the Optical Molecular Imaging and Analysis, reviews the capabilities of the an operating microscope recently installed in the MSRB’s new microsurgery suite. The suite is slated to open in the spring.