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Plasma FIB-SEM, a new tool for nanoscale studies of bone tissue.

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Visualizing bone tissue at the nanoscale could provide new cues to better better understand diseases such as osteoporosis and arthritis. It is precisely at that scale that the most fundamental mechanisms take place, which ultimately determine the mechanical properties of bone (elasticity, fragility, toughness) and calcium homeostasis, crucial for numerous physiological processes.

Thanks to the joint efforts of a French-Canadian consortium involving the LIPHY and the Materials Science dpt of McMaster university, we now have a new high performance tool to visualize bone tissue with a spatial resolution of a few tens of nanometers. FIB-SEM imaging (focused ion beam coupled to a scanning electron microscope) is a recent technique developed for materials science which allows a nanometric layer-by-layer milling of material and sequential imaging with chemical contrast of a region of interest. The last generation of instruments based on a Xenon plasma source enable imaging considerably larger regions than achievable so far (approx. 100 µm wide). This provides very high structural accuracy over biologically relevant fields of view, for example, of bone remodeling units.

Using this technique, Dakota Binkley, a PhD candidate of the University Grenoble Alpes and McMaster University (Ontario, Canada) was able to evidence microscopic mineral clusters unknown so far. The gradient of mineralization within these clusters is a signature of biomineralization activity at much finer scales than postulated to this day. This could favor much larger calcium exchange capacities than initially thought. This discovery brings us to reconsider the mechanisms involved in bone diseases as well as the effect of therapeutic agents currently on the market.

Contact : Aurélien Gourrier / Kathryn Grandfield
Learn more :
Ellipsoidal mesoscale mineralization pattern in human cortical bone revealed in 3D by plasma focused ion beam serial sectioning, Journal of Structural Biology Nov. 2020 (open source)