These transparent mice will be used in the fight against cancer

Researchers in the US have developed a technique to make see-through mice. The method will help scientists create therapies for cancer, chronic pain and other diseases.

Rendering tissue transparent could be key to our understanding of how certain diseases affect our organs, which in turn could lead to the development of better treatments for ailments such as cancer. Neuroscientist Viviana Gradinaru and her team from the California Institute of Technology have been working on a technique to make animal tissue see-through and help scientists study anatomy in even greater detail.

She chose mice and rats for the study because these rodents’ biology is pretty similar to humans’, which means they can be altered in ways that simulate diseases that may affect us, explained Heather Saul at The Independent.

But don’t expect to see them running around. The rodents were euthanised and, to make them see-through, the researchers removed their skin and then pumped chemicals through the blood vessels, brains and spinal cords.

Some chemicals formed a mesh-like gooey substance that holds the tissue in place while others washed out the fats that block light, forming what Saul described as a “rodent-shaped block of gelatine”.

“Our methodology has the potential to accelerate any scientific endeavour 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,” explained Gradinaru to The Independent.

It takes about 14 days to make a rodent transparent, and the technique, which could be replicated in other labs, has been published in the journal Cell.

Gradinaru and her team hope the new method will be used to map details of the nervous system with even more precision, track the spread of cancer, and identify the exact location of where some viruses hide.

Last year the researchers made mice brains and embryos transparent, but this is the first time that a whole mouse has been rendered see-through.

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