Berkeley Lab 3D imaging method used to study COVID-19, beyond

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Hsi-Min Chan/Staff
The 3D imaging method of mapping cells, developed at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, could completely change the way infections are studied.

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A study released by the National Center for X-ray Tomography at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or Berkeley Lab, details a new way of mapping cells called the 3D imaging method.

According to the report, this method could completely alter how infections are studied. This technology could also cut down the amount of time it takes to map an entire cell to only five to 10 minutes, noted Berkeley Lab scientist Valentina Loconte. The study was created in collaboration with UCSF, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Heidelberg University in Germany, according to Loconte.

“Basically, we are using a technology called soft X-ray tomography to image coronavirus infected cells,” Chen said. “Soft X-ray tomography is a very good technique to image the cell morphology as well as molecular density in their very native state.”

The research was initiated in April 2020 when biological specimens were shipped over to Berkeley Lab from Germany for imaging and analysis, said Berkeley Lab scientist Jian-Hua Chen. The study took roughly one and a half years to complete and was finished in October 2021.

Within the study, Chen said he was responsible for imaging the specimen using a microscope. Loconte, on the other hand, said she prepared the samples for imaging as well as conducted a data analysis of post-collection processing.

“We compared healthy cells with six-hour post-infection cells and 24-hour post-infection cells,” Loconte said. “We could discover that there’s a variation in the number of lipid bodies, volume of lipid bodies and also molecular density at each time point.”

According to Loconte, the study revealed that after 24 hours of the infection being present within the cell, researchers could see the cell start to dismiss the infection within the compartments it uses to dispose of the virus.

The 3D imaging method can be utilized in numerous ways — including studying the effects of therapeutic drugs on the cell and the effects of other harmful viruses, noted director of the National Center for X-ray Tomography Carolyn Larabell.

“We actually have experiments in the works to look at the effects of a couple of other viruses on cells,” Larabell said. “(There) are actually two viruses that have very dire consequences that haven’t been studied, so it will be very interesting to see.”

Parasitic infections such as malaria and toxoplasmosis-infected cells have also been studied using the 3D imaging method, according to Larabell.

“It’s really applicable,” said Larabell. “Plants are a little bit too large so I don’t think we can go into the plant world, but mammalian cells — any disease, any cell type.”

Contact Zoe Kessler at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @ZoeKessler14.