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New imaging technique enables rapid analysis of COVID-19 infected lung tissue

9 March 2023
Researchers from VU Amsterdam and clinicians from Amsterdam UMC jointly developed a new imaging technique that makes faster analysis of lung tissue possible. The technique can already be used in the operating theatre to produce ‘live’ images of tissue structures and cells and provides a valuable aid for understanding and the treatment of pulmonary diseases such as COVID-19.

The research team used the novel imaging technique, which is based on ‘high harmonic generation microscopy’ (HHG), to analyse coronavirus-infected tissue. “We were able to obtain high-quality images of all the typical characteristics of COVID-19 in just a few minutes and without the need for tissue processing of any kind,” says VU PhD student Laura van Huizen, first author of the study. All the results were published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (AJRCCM).

Previous studies have already shown that HHG microscopy allows tissue to be analysed much faster than by tissue analysis methods commonly used today. This is the first study to produce images of COVID-19 infected lung tissue using this microscopy technique, however.

More clinical trials
While the new imaging technique developed by the research team is promising, “it is still too early to use as a medical tool for lung tissue research on a larger scale,” says Marloes Groot, Professor of Biophotonics & Medical Imaging at VU Amsterdam. “More clinical trials need to be conducted first, but there is little doubt this new technique is set to yield health gains in the future.”

The study was conducted in collaboration with VU start-up Flash Pathology BV, which will market the HHG microscope and is planning further clinical studies. The VU-LaserLaB research group Biophotonics & Medical Imaging also worked with the Department of Pulmonary Medicine at Amsterdam UMC, with pulmonologists Jouke Annema, Peter Bonta and Kirsten Kalverda collaborating in the study. The study was funded from the grant provided by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) - Applied and Engineering Sciences (AES).

Image: PhD student Laura van Huizen, professor and pulmonologist Jouke Annema (Amsterdam UMC) and professor Marloes Groot (left to right)