JUN 28, 2017 6:11 PM PDT

The Extracellular Matrix Revealed in Three Dimensions

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Our organs are made up of cells that are surrounded by a supportive matrix, which helps give the organ structure and form. The extracellular matrix exerts a significant influence on tissues and by extension, plays a role in disease progression. It has been very challenging to study it though, until now. Researchers at the Biotech Research & Innovation Centre (BRIC) at the University of Copenhagen have created a technique that reveals tissue and tumor structure in a new way.

De-cellularized kidney seen with a dark field microscope. / Credit: by Alejandro Mayorca-Guiliani.

Led by Professor Janine Erler, scientists have been able to dissolve away cells and leave the matrix intact. Investigators have revealed the inside of tumors and organs in a novel way and with unprecedented detail. The work has been reported in Nature Medicine.

“We have developed a technique to obtain intact organ scaffolds and to image them in incredibly high detail using microscopes. We are the first to image the 3D structures of primary and metastatic tumors as well as healthy organs in this way,” said Erler.

The extracellular matrix provides a place for cells to anchor and arrange into an architecture. It also allows the cells inside to get a sense of changes in their environment and the appropriate responses. However, when there is dysfunction in this system, it can foster tumor growth. As such, scientists want to learn more about it, and this new tool is already providing new insights.

“We have isolated the structure that keeps tissues in place and organizes the cells inside them. We did this by using existing blood vessels to deliver cell-removing compounds directly to a specific tissue to remove all cells within an organ. Doing this leaves behind an intact scaffold that could be analyzed biochemically and microscopically, providing us with the first view of the structure of tumors,” explained Alejandro Mayorca-Guiliani, a postdoctoral fellow in Erler’s lab who pioneered the new method.

De-cellularized structure of a vessel inside a metastatic lymph node. / Credit: Alejandro Mayorca-Guiliani.

“When you remove the cells, the clarity of what you can see through the microscope is much improved – you can see the fibers of the matrix more clearly and you can look much deeper into the tissue. Using this approach, we have been able to see important differences in matrix organization when we looked at metastatic tumors in the lung and in the lymph node,” commented co-first author Chris Madsen, an imaging expert now working at Lund University in Sweden.

This work is sure to impact cancer research; viewing the remnants of organs stripped of their cells can illustrate how the architecture of organs and tumors differs.

“We are now re-introducing cells into our extracellular matrix scaffolds, bringing them back to life, to study how tumors form and how cancer progresses. This is extremely exciting and offers a unique opportunity to study how cells behave in their native environment,” concluded Professor Erler.

 

Learn more about the etracellular matrix from the video.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via University of Copenhagen, Nature Medicine

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
SEP 11, 2020
Immunology
Study Reveals Tumor Defense Mechanism... And How to Beat It
SEP 11, 2020
Study Reveals Tumor Defense Mechanism... And How to Beat It
  P53 is an infamous process gene at the core of the development of tumors.  When P53  functional, it pau ...
OCT 17, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Imaging Innovation Set to Ease the Pain of Osteoarthritis
OCT 17, 2020
Imaging Innovation Set to Ease the Pain of Osteoarthritis
In osteoarthritis, the joint cartilage that cushions bones begins to break down, causing debilitating pain and stiffness ...
NOV 11, 2020
Health & Medicine
A smart path for novel biologics
NOV 11, 2020
A smart path for novel biologics
Introduction  Cell culture is at the heart of the production process for many biopharmaceuticals, but finding the o ...
NOV 01, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
There's More to Neutrophil Function Than We Knew
NOV 01, 2020
There's More to Neutrophil Function Than We Knew
Neutrophils are an abundant type of white blood cell that circulate in the blood that can provide a general defense aga ...
NOV 02, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Catching Cells in the Act of Self-Repair
NOV 02, 2020
Catching Cells in the Act of Self-Repair
Cells have to be flexible and move with each other and our bodies. When cells get overstretched, they have to be able to ...
NOV 17, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Why Mutations in RRP7 Cause a Congenital Brain Disorder
NOV 17, 2020
Why Mutations in RRP7 Cause a Congenital Brain Disorder
A large family with some members that have a rare brain disorder has helped scientists learn more about both brain devel ...
Loading Comments...