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iScope, You Scope, We All Scope a Mouse Brain
"Tall, Dark, and Handsome." It sounds like a personals ad for a Valentine's date, but these romantic terms describe not men but microscopesthree of themat your service from dusk till dawn. The trio of hefty, slide-filled microscopes will soon be plugged into the internet to help researchers study the mouse brain, free of the logistical problems associated with borrowing from a traditional lending library. The iScope project is described today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting.
iScope will take requests from scientists around the globe who are interested in studying any of the 1800 mouse brain tissue samples from the Mouse Brain Library (MBL, www.mbl.org). According to Glenn Rosen, a researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, Harvard University, the study of mouse biology sheds light on the complex traits that characterize brain conditions in humans, such as dyslexia, schizophrenia, learning disabilities, and autism. The virtual lab can also facilitate the work of those interested in behavioral research and the brain, Rosen says. In six months, the iScope will advance from prototype stage, when a robotic slide handler with 600-slide capacity is added to each of the three microscopes. "When all this is done, (the iScope) will be freely available to all," Rosen says.
The iScope is an extension of the Mouse Brain Library, whose aim is to provide the research community with the tissue collection and genetic data necessary to understand the mouse nervous system. Rosen, who began the MBL project with colleague Robert Williams, of University of Tennessee, notes that researchers may download free control software (available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux), which will allow them to control a research-grade light microscope and explore a wealth of mouse tissue at an image resolution of better than 0.5 micrometers per pixel. Using a high-speed Internet connection, researchers can conduct their work in real time from a desktop computer. Instead of shipping slides over groundwith the attendant risk of loss or damagescientists can turn to Tall, Dark and Handsome for help studying and sharing slide samples.
The information from the iScope and MBL projects will further scientific collaboration aimed at identifying and understanding the genes that play a role in complex traits, providing insight into how multiple genes play a role in conditions such as dyslexia, which is thought to be caused by interactions among four different genes, according to Rosen. The specific genes of interest are QTLs, or "quantitative trait loci," which indicate an individual's susceptibility to certain diseasesa blurry combination of the effects of both quantitative and qualitative traits.
Along with the project's computer programs, researchers may obtain free stereology software, which allows viewers to examine a region of tissue through a light microscope and to record attributes of the region, usually the number, kind, or size of individual cells in the tissue. In other words, it helps scientists get 3D information out of 2D slides.
"The iScope system makes it simple to perform cell counting and area measurements on our tissue from anywhere in the world," Rosen says. "It gives the impression of looking through a microscope at a movie. We've taken pictures of each section of a brain, so we get about 60 pictures that take you to the depth of a section, allowing you to do sophisticated cell counts."
Although the iScope client software, which includes a graphical interface for scheduling time on the system and for controlling the microscopes, is free for noncommercial use, the server software package requires licensing.
The iScope, which is housed at the University of Tennessee, transmits full-color images that may be reproduced in papers and educational materials.
17 February 2003