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Ultrastructural Microscopy: Beyond Light and Cells
Jaleh Mansouri, M.D.
The emphasis on virtual microscopy and digital pathology in recent years seems
to have cast a shadow on other microscopic techniques in modern diagnostic pathology.
However, ultrastructural modalities such as electron microscopy continue to play an
essential role in diagnostic renal and soft tissue pathology as well as neuropathology.
Scanning transmission electron microscopy allows for detailed visualization of single cell
structures and microbes in 3D and is used still mostly in research settings. While most
electron microscopy units are housed within tertiary care hospitals affiliated with
academic medical centers, commercial entities also offer ultrastructural microscopy
products and services for many applications in medicine and science (e.g., EPL,
Microvision Laboratories, Inc.).
Innovations in ultrastructural microscopy have focused on increasing resolution in
different systems including living cells. For example, stimulated emission depletion
(STED) microscopy increases resolution of living cells beyond the limits of light
diffraction by the deactivation of fluorophores to optimize resolution in a focal area.
STED microscopy enables researches to observe subcellular functions (e.g., cytoskeletal
changes in cancer cells) in real time. While vendors (e.g. Leica Microsystems) are
already marketing STED microscopes for research applications, such ultrastructural
techniques may find an important niche in the future as diagnostic pathology continues to
move beyond the limits of light and cells.
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