Feb. 10, 2003 TROY, N.Y. -- The mind works in mysterious ways, and one Rensselaer researcher and his colleagues have created a computer automation tool to help solve those mysteries, speed understanding of how the brain develops, delve more deeply into brain function at the cellular level, and make more reliable conclusions.
Rensselaer engineering professor Badri Roysam has developed a technology called Quantitative cat-FISH that analyzes 3-D, microscopic images of the brains of rats after the animals have run through mazes. By logging important cognitive cellular information -- such as activity, cell shape, size, and location -- in a simple spreadsheet for analysis, the software is helping researchers identify which cells are active and when. In the past, researchers have only been able to pinpoint which general regions of the brain are active.
Researchers used to perform some of the time-consuming cell counting and transcription work that Quantitative cat-FISH does by hand. Roysam's system now allows scientists to process more data and tissue faster and without subjective error. It also enables researchers to make more reliable conclusions.
"Quantitative cat-FISH" stands for Quantitative Cellular Compartment Analysis of Temporal Activity -- Fluorescence In-Situ Hybridization. It was developed by Roysam along with Jim Turner, director of the Wadsworth's Nanobiotechnology Program, and a team of scientists led by Carol Barnes, research scientist and professor of psychology and neurology at the University of Arizona.
"This is a powerful tool for large-scale and quantitative testing of biological hypotheses, especially when combined with related technologies developed at Rensselaer," says Roysam. "It can be used in many other areas of cell and molecular research."
The technology is currently being used to test hypotheses on the behavior of neurons grown over engineered surfaces, the development of tumor blood vessels, and the effects of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on river life forms.
Barnes says the software has proven to be a helpful tool in her team's studies of whether cognitive tasks trigger specific gene reactions. "We have made great progress over the last couple of years, and we couldn't have done it without RPI's image analysis technology," says Barnes.
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