Mid-infrared (mid-IR) spectroscopy provides a unique chemical fingerprint of biomaterials, including DNA and proteins, from single molecules to highly organised structures and, ultimately, to live cells and tissues. However, acquiring good signal–to–noise mid-IR spectroscopic images, at the cellular level, typically involves a synchrotron, with imaging times of order of minutes. Here we use a new laser-based table-top IR spectroscopic micro-imaging system, to obtain vibrational fingerprint signatures of living human ovarian cancer cells at a diffraction limited spatial resolution, and at a spectral resolution (< 20 cm−1) sufficient to map out the spatial distributions of chemical moieties inside the cell itself. The bright laser pulses give very high signal–to–noise images, and 100 psec image acquisition times that are roughly 1011 times faster than current mid-IRspectroscopic imaging techniques. The imaging method is quantitative, non-phototoxic, marker-free and easily fast enough to “freeze” moving, living specimens. It can be applied to a range of cell-level biochemical processes, and we believe it could impact on the fields of drug action, cell physiology, pathology and disease as a whole.
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