Microscopes and Regenerative Medicine
Regenerative medicine is a cutting edge field of research. For those of you who may not know, regenerative medicine utilizes stem cells to regenerate or replace normal functioning to damaged or diseased tissues and organs. Regenerative medicine points to a time when we will be able to order replacement organs and tissues when our original ones get damaged. Right now, there are over 150,000 people in need of an organ transplant in the United States and only 7,000 organs are ready to be donated. . This figure does not include the many individuals who have lost limbs or other body parts due to accidents or warfare. Regenerative medicine is a new field of study that is clearly in need of rapid development.
Here is a great video illustrating the state of the art of regenerative medicine at Wake Forest University
Microscopes on the other hand date back to the late 1500s with the first record of a compound, light microscope. Since that time, many microscopes have been invented including the scanning electron microscope, atomic force microscope and the field ion microscope. Today microscopes are capable of viewing single molecules and even atoms.
It might at first seem that regenerative medicine and microscopy are odd bedfellows but indeed microscopy is key to understanding the role that both synthetic and natural scaffolds play in regenerative medicine. Scaffolds, much like the skeletons inside 0ur own bodies, are structures that
support stem cell growth and are essential for the shape and stiffness of the tissue that stem cells create. For example, if scaffold density is too thick or thin, the desired stem cell growth is not possible.  Scaffolds come in a natural form called extra cellular matrix or ECM. ECMs are often obtained from animal sources such as pig bladders or other hollow organs. Living cells are first scraped away from the ECM, it is then placed in a bath and washed free from any living cells. Synthetic scaffolds, on the other hand, are manufactured from materials like polydimethylsiloxane.Microscopic inspection comes in particularly handy when looking at the porosity and density of natural and synthetic scaffolds. It also helps when searching large sheets of ECM for remaining cells from the host organisms. Both are a particularly time-consuming task. What is really neat is when a microscope system does all of this for you. Nanotronics Imaging has created an elegant solution to this situation with their newly announced nPATHtm system. The nPATHtm consists of an optical microscope, has an automated stage, is hooked up to a high resolution camera and all this is attached to a computer. All one has to do is press a start button and the ECM or synthetic scaffold is scanned into the computer and analysis is automatically run regarding scaffold density, porosity, cleanliness and other variables.An nPATHtm currently has a home at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine  where researchers there are finding great value when analyzing their scaffolds. It is very exciting when cutting edge technology, software and hardware design and medical research combine to push the edge of medical research just a little bit further.