This Is the Highest Resolution Image Ever of a Killer Cell In Action

That white blob on the left is one of the ninjas living inside your body, a Natural Killer blood cell. This photograph shows it attacking a cancerous cell (on the right) in unprecedented detail.

The image was captured in 3D by an Imperial College London research team lead by Professor Daniel Davis. They used a completely new technique developed with the help of physicists and the college's Photonics Group: optical laser tweezers combined with a super-resolution microscope.

Before this technique, microscopes captured multiple bi-dimensional slices and scientists stacked them up to create a 3D image. The process was slow, limiting the speed of the action. Furthermore, the resulting detail and resolution was poor. Physics professor Paul French says that their new optical laser tweezers technique solves these problems:

Using laser tweezers to manipulate the interface between live cells into a horizontal orienta tion means our microscope can take many images of the cell contact interface in rapid succession. This has provided an unprecedented means to directly see dynamic molecular processes that go on between live cells.

According to Professor Davis, this new and unique perspective allows them to clearly watch how white blood cells detect and attack their prey. This will make scientists understand the attack process in a much better way than before. The implications of this understanding could affect our understanding of many diseases, like cancer, and the design of future medical treatments:

NK cells are important in our immune response to viruses and rogue tissues like tumors. They may also play a role in the outcome of bone marrow transplants by determining whether a recipient's body rejects or accepts the donated tissue (...) In the future, drugs that influence where and when NK cells kill could be included in medical treatments, such as the targeted killing of tumors. They may also prove useful in preventing the unwanted destruction by NK cells that may occur in transplant rejection or some auto-immune diseases.

I'm happy we are becoming such advanced peeping toms, but kind of disappointed to see that there are no actual little pilots in a cockpit flying those bloody attack fighters. [Imperial College]