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New imaging technique evaluates nerve damage

A new imaging technique could help doctors and researchers more accurately assess the extent of nerve damage and healing in a live patient.

Researchers at Laval University in Québec and Harvard Medical School in Boston aimed lasers at rats' damaged sciatic nerves to create images of the individual neurons' insulating sheath called myelin.

Physical trauma, repetitive stress, bacterial infections, genetic mutations, and neurodegenerative disorders such as multiple sclerosis can all cause neurons to lose myelin. The loss slows or halts the nerve's transmission of electrical impulses and can result in symptoms such as numbness, pain, or poor muscle control.

Using their images of neurons, the researchers measured the thickness of the myelin at different locations and times after the rats' sciatic nerve was damaged. Two weeks after injury the nerve's myelin covering had thinned considerably, but at four weeks the nerve had begun to heal.

Traditionally, researchers could only obtain such myelin measurements by removing the nerve and slicing it into thin layers, a technique whose destructive nature prevented it from being used to evaluate nerve injuries in living patients. The new imaging method, described in the September issue of the Optical Society's (OSA) open-access journal Biomedical Optics Express, holds promise as a diagnostic tool for doctors treating nerve damage or degenerative diseases, the researchers write.

Paper: "In vivo evaluation of demyelination and remyelination in a nerve crush injury model," Belanger et al., Biomedical Optics Express, Volume 2, Issue 9, pp. 2698-2708.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This summary is part of OSA's monthly Biomedical Optics Express tip sheet. To subscribe, email or follow @OpticalSociety on Twitter. For images or interviews with authors, please contact Angela Stark, or 202.416.1443.

About Biomedical Optics Express

Biomedical Optics Express is OSA's principal outlet for serving the biomedical optics community with rapid, open-access, peer-reviewed papers related to optics, photonics and imaging in the life sciences. The journal scope encompasses theoretical modeling and simulations, technology development, and biomedical studies and clinical applications. It is published by the Optical Society and edited by Joseph A. Izatt of Duke University. Biomedical Optics Express is an open-access journal and is available at no cost to readers online at

About OSA

Uniting more than 106,000 professionals from 134 countries, the Optical Society (OSA) brings together the global optics community through its programs and initiatives. Since 1916 OSA has worked to advance the common interests of the field, providing educational resources to the scientists, engineers and business leaders who work in the field by promoting the science of light and the advanced technologies made possible by optics and photonics. OSA publications, events, technical groups and programs foster optics knowledge and scientific collaboration among all those with an interest in optics and photonics. For more information, visit

Angela Stark | EurekAlert!
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