[NATURE] Live video imaging at the cellular level made easier
Pilhan Kim (standing) examining images from the IVM-MS2, IVIM Tech's newest intravital microscope.© IVIM Technology

Intravital microscopy allows for real time, three-dimensional video imaging of live tissue and live animals at the cellular level. It relies on laser excitation of a fluorescent molecule and detection of the resultant fluorescent signal.

"A major advantage of intravital microscopy is that we can follow up various cellular processes at different time points in a single animal," explains Pilhan Kim, an associate professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), who is also CEO of IVIM Technology, Inc., a start-up company founded by his team at KAIST. 

An intravital image of liver fibrosis (green) and lipid droplets (red) captured using a two-photon mode of the IVM-CM, IVIM Tech’s confocal / two-photon dual mode microscope.© IVIM Technology

Kim and colleagues took advantage of this capability in their investigation of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a common disease which can progress to inflammation, fibrosis, and liver failure. The team used a mouse model to observe how lipid droplets accumulated in liver cells, a characteristic feature of the disease.

"Previously, it was difficult to see the lipid droplets in the liver in a live animal," says Kim, but by using a custom-built confocal and two-photon intravital microscope with a Ti-sapphire femtosecond-pulse laser, and associated water-cooling system, Kim and colleagues were able to observe droplet size and location, and changes in an individual liver cell's behaviour and shape in a live animal.

While intravital microscopy can provide valuable new insights into disease processes and drug development, Kim notes that it has been challenging for life scientists to use, as it is technically difficult and expensive.

He is determined to change that, and make intravital microscopy a more user-friendly, smooth experience for biomedical researchers. This motivation led to the development of IVIM Technology’s IVM-MS2, a compact all-in-one intravital two-photon microscope.

Intravital Images of various tissues captured using the IVM-MS2.© IVIM Technology

Instead of a large laser system, the IVM-MS2 uses a compact air-cooled fibre femtosecond-pulse laser module fixed at the most widely used wavelength of 920 nm. “By fixing the wavelength we can reduce the size of the laser and the price,” explains Kim.

As well as the laser, the IVM-MS2 now integrates body temperature monitoring and regulation, anesthetization, tissue motion stabilization and implantable imaging windows customized for various organs. “This avoids users having to improvise these critical functions needed for intravital imaging experiments – it’s all inbuilt with high usability,” says Kim. “It can serve as a workhorse to elucidate the unknown pathophysiology of various human diseases, and hopefully help in the discovery of new cures,” he concludes.