Automated 3‑D analysis of zebrafish larvae, often used as a window on embryonic growth, could aid in the development of new drugs.
Zebrafish larvae — tiny, transparent and fast-growing vertebrates — are widely used to study development and disease. However, visually examining the larvae for variations caused by drugs or genetic mutations is an imprecise, painstaking and time-consuming process.
Engineers at MIT have now built an automated system that can rapidly produce 3D, micron-resolution images of thousands of zebrafish larvae and precisely analyze their physical traits. The system, to be described in the Feb. 12 edition of Nature Communications, offers a comprehensive view of how potential drugs affect vertebrates, says Mehmet Fatih Yanik, senior author of the paper.
“Complex processes involving organs cannot be accurately recapitulated in cell culture today. Existing 3-D tissue models are still far too simple to model live animals,” says Yanik, an MIT associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and biological engineering. “In whole animals, the biology is far more complicated.”
Lead authors of the paper are MIT graduate student Carlos Pardo-Martin and Amin Allalou, a visiting student at MIT. Other authors are MIT senior research scientist Peter Eimon, MIT intern Jaime Medina, and Carolina Wahlby of the Broad Institute.