Research conducted at the Biodesign Institute of Arizona State University (ASU) has for the first time demonstrated the application of three-dimensional optical computed tomography (CT) on the imaging of live cells.1

The study further demonstrates that the 3D optical CT approach utilized in the Cell-CT imaging and analysis platform by VisionGate, Phoenix, provides an advantage over other 3D imaging modalities that are based on conventional 2D microscopy. Applying the 3D optical CT approach to live cells adds the fourth dimension of time.

The study’s principal investigator, Deirdre Meldrum, PhD, an ASU professor of engineering and coinventor of the new technology, predicts that “the Cell-CT platform, combined with live cell imaging and fluorescence marker analysis, will revolutionize our understanding of disease at the cellular level, where disease prediction and companion diagnostics for personalized medicine are poised to change the paradigm for improved healthcare.

“Because of live cell CT’s capability to perform imaging of live, suspended cells, and the relative ease of implementation, we expect the live cell CT method to become a powerful new tool for the biomedical research community,” says Meldrum. “One of our main goals was to design a live cell CT system to advance toward clinical and commercial applications in any research or clinical laboratory.”

Live cell CT highlights the key architectural features of single living cells, much like MRIs and CTs have done for organs and soft tissue features in human and animal bodies. At the heart of the technology, the optical live cell CT approach is based on acquiring 2D images from different perspectives of the cell, like moving a camera around to take pictures from a 360-degree rotational axis.

Each 2D image has the same resolution—known as isotropic resolution—and can be computed into the 3D image of the cell with high fidelity and high spatial resolution. The fact that this resolution is the same along all three spatial dimensions is what empowers researchers to interrogate the dynamics of cells in the disease process.

“We wanted to develop a robust technology where we look at the global 3D architecture of a cell in its natural state, which is pivotal for the next level of analysis of cellular function and measuring responses to external stimuli or stressors,” says Meldrum.

ASU’s research was supported by a grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation. The technology was originally developed by VisionGate, and the company is nearing commercialization of the Cell-CT platform for the detection of early-stage lung cancer. For more information, visit VisionGate.


  1. Kelbauskas L, Shetty R, Cao B, et al. Optical computed tomography for spatially isotropic four-dimensional imaging of live single cells. Sci Adv. 2017;3(12):e1602580; doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1602580.