Using artificial intelligence, the scientists created a tool that allows anyone to see what the structures inside a cell look like - even when you only have images from the outside. Allen Integrated Cell, available for free online, creates 3D visualizations that can help researchers better understand the disease.
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This cellular tool focuses on human stem cells, or cells that have not yet become, say, muscle cells or heart cells. If we better understand the inner workings of a healthy cell, we can better understand what goes wrong when it turns into something similar to a cancer cell, says Greg Johnson, a scientist at the Allen Institute. "It can help us 'go back in time' from a cancer cell to observe the changes that are happening and to detect them as early as possible," he adds.
First, scientists genetically engineered cells so that their internal structures (like mitochondria) glowed. So, they took thousands of pictures of these shiny cells and fed them with machine learning algorithms. The algorithms learned to predict the shape and location of structures in any cell, not just those that had already been seen or those that had several other structures labeled.
This is important because it will allow researchers to study cells more effectively and cheaply. When it comes to imagining cells, there are a few different approaches. The simplest and least expensive type is bright field imaging. According to Johnson, this is like looking at pond water through a microscope in high school biology. You will see a bright image and some dark spots that are internal structures, but there is not much more detail than that. This makes it difficult to understand the delicate complexities of the cell.
The other approach is what Allen's scientists did: design the cells to make them glow. This method costs a lot more money and, of course, the more structures you produce, the more expensive the process. Besides, cells do not react very well to the dye that makes them shine, which means that they die quickly and you cannot observe them over time.
Now, the integrated Allen cell can look at a bright-field image and then tell scientists exactly what it looks like inside. "Because we can get these images only in the bright field, it is low cost and will not be toxic," says Johnson. "And that means that we can take a lot of images and observe the dynamics over a long period of time, which is not something that would have been possible before."
Source: Angela Chen para The Verge