Health/Life Sciences

Visualizing brains, vegetation and salamanders in 3D: College of Washington microscope does all of it

Alpenglow’s microscope in action, visualizing the whole mouse brain and other samples. (Adam Glaser Video)

A new study showcases a microscope years in the making, licensed to University of Washington spinout Alpenglow Biosciences. The microscope enables researchers to peer into biological samples of all sizes and shapes in 3D and zoom into details quickly.

Alpenglow partners with biopharma companies to image biological specimens. The company focuses on analyzing three-dimensional samples that have been “cleared” with chemicals to easily visualize their components.

Researchers had previously developed a variety of microscopes for such samples, but most are not versatile enough to accommodate different specimen types and methods of clearing. The high-throughput instrument overcomes these limitations and automates the task, enabling analysis of tens of millions of cells.

The microscope was invented by UW researchers and Alpenglow co-founders Adam Glaser and Jonathan Liu and their colleagues. They developed a new type of lens and placed the objectives in unique positions that accommodate the microscope’s easy-to-use “open top” design.

The microscope has an open-top design. (Cairn Research Photo / Andrew Allen)

In the video above, the researchers image a mouse brain and zoom into individual neurons or brain cancer metastases. They also visualize a slice of human brain, the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, and a whole axolotl, a type of salamander.

The microscope “merges several optical techniques into one instrument that has enormous flexibility,” according to a commentary accompanying the publication, authored by Shigeaki Kanatani and Per Uhlen, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. They called the advance a “powerful tool” to understand neural circuits and understand how tissues and cells are affected by disease and respond to treatments.

Glaser is an affiliate assistant professor at UW’s Molecular Biophotonics Laboratory and recently joined the Allen Institute for Neural Dynamics. Liu, a professor of mechanical engineering, leads the biophotonics lab.

Alpenglow sells the microscope bundled with data processing and analysis software. The company also has more than 10 biopharma customers, and has already tripled revenue in 2022 from last year’s “seven figures,” said Glaser. Alpenglow, formerly Lightspeed Microscopy, raised $4 million last year and will reach a headcount of 20 in June.

CEO and co-founder Nicholas Reder, a former UW pathologist, and UW Medicine surgical pathologist and co-founder Lawrence True are also study co-authors.

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