OK, before you read any further, let me warn all rodent lovers that this story doesn’t end well for the mice. Ready? Scientists have developed a technique for creating see-through mice with transparent organs that can be used to help study anatomy from the outside. Viviana Gradinaru of the California Institute of Technology describes the methodology and benefits in the current issue of the journal Cell.
Mice are critical to biomedical research because their systems are so much like humans. The technology to make tissue transparent has been available for over 100 years, but it’s been limited in scope. This is the first time an entire mouse has been made see-through.
Here’s where the squeamish need to skip to the next paragraph. The mouse must first be euthanized and the skin removed. Chemicals are then pumped through the blood vessels, spinal cord and brain tissue to clear out their organs. This is followed with other chemicals that will gel to hold the tissue in place. A final flush of chemicals cleans out opaque fats and the tissue, but not the bones, become transparent. The total process takes a week for a mouse, two weeks for a rat.
The benefits of having a see-through mouse, even a (spoiler alert) dead one, is significant, according to Dr. Gradinaru.
Our methodology has the potential to accelerate any scientific endeavor that would benefit from whole-organism mapping, including the study of how peripheral nerves and organs can profoundly affect cognition and mental processing, and vice versa.
This will also help facilitate disease monitoring and analysis of the interactions between the brain and the body.
The ethics of using this technique someday on medical school cadavers has yet to be determined. As far as what might happen if this technology could eventually be used on live subjects, ask H.G. Wells.