How is Streaming Like Gathering Details About Organic Tissue?

Streaming and studying organic tissue are miles apart, but a new method of study brings them closer together than you might think possible.

A groundbreaking technique developed by researchers affiliated with the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience presents a new way of gathering and organizing highly detailed information about organic tissues in record time.

Tissues emit weak, intrinsic fields that are difficult to differentiate. The researchers used a complex algorithm to improve this signal quality, then separate them.

It’s comparable to how streaming services present different compression levels to ensure consistent viewing quality, regardless of a viewer’s internet connection.

“Based on how fast your connection is, the streamer will send the video with different levels of compression that is then recomposed optimally for your device. We’re doing something similar,” says Francesco Cutrale, co-principal investigator and research assistant professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. “We’re taking very large, very complex data and moving it into a space where it is compressed. We can then look at very large data sets — associated by similarity into an enormous histogram — and analyze this data in record time and with very high sensitivity.”

Current fluorescent methods can’t be used on live tissue. The new technique, however, can. The team calls it “Hybrid Unmixing.” It uses linear unmixing, which analyzes components in specimens marked by chemical compounds called fluorophores. They then visualize the components with hyperspectral phasors, which use the entire color spectrum rather than just red, blue, and green. Hybrid Unmixing allows simultaneous imaging of bright and dim labeled components, even under low illumination.


A subsequent paper, published today in Cell Reports Methods, describes hardware designed by the research team. Called SHy-Cam, short for Single-shot Hyperspectral Phasor Camera, it is optimized to capture this type of information. 

With the SHy-Cam, the researchers could use the new algorithm to obtain spectral information quickly and efficiently in a camera built with easily acquired optical components. The new equipment described in the paper can acquire 30 data sets per second, with a photon efficiency of over 80%.

The new method could someday be used to rapidly process tissue biopsies or detect bacteria in food processing plants. The researchers detailed the technique in a pair of papers published in Nature Methods, and Cell Reports Methods.


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