“We hope we have a technology that will allow you to scan the nervous system of entire animals,” Boyden told The New York Times (NYT).
The technique hinges on a polymer that is commonly found in diapers. Absorbing up to 300 times its mass in water, the material has the potential to cause biological entities to swell. By fluorescently tagging the structures of interest, then infusing the tissue with the composite parts of the polymer and adding water, the researchers were able to force the tissue to expand uniformly in all directions—up to five times its original size—while maintaining its overall organization. Boyden hopes that more fine-tuning could eventually result in the ability to expand tissues by 10 times or more, he told NYT.