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Scientists reveal 3-D tour of a transparent brain

April 10, 2013|By Geoffrey Mohan

Scientists at Stanford University on Wednesday released a video of a three-dimensional tour of a mouse brain, using a technique that made the brain see-through.

The development could lead to rapid advances in research into Alzheimer's disease and other brain maladies. The researchers also made part of a human brain transparent, and used it to produce sharp imagery of deformed neurons that may be associated with Down syndrome and autism.

It took six years for engineers and biochemists to remove the matrix of fats from a brain and replace it with a plastic gel. Imagine taking the binder out of a casserole and replacing it with Jell-O and you're close to what they've done.

“There have been some other pretty amazing revolutions in neuronal analysis in recent years but what makes this different is you can do all this in the human brain,” said Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, which funded the Stanford team.

Think about what's happened in astronomy over the last decades: new space and terrestrial telescopes have flooded astronomers with high-resolution data that has led to discoveries such as exoplanets and dark energy.

The Stanford technique, dubbed CLARITY, will likewise dump enormous amounts of data on a field that President Obama has tapped as the next science frontier.

The technique also uses precious brain tissue sparingly -- multiple tests can be run without destroying the sample.

“With mice, we can use many mice,” said neuroscientist Pavel Osten of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, who has worked on similar attempts to image brains. “With human tissue — that’s often very precious. And good human tissue is extremely precious.”

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