ne upon a time, I had an art teacher who gave me some of the best advice I have ever received. As I was laboring over a small section of a painting that I had been working on for several days, struggling over and over to get that one spot just right, he had come up behind me to watch my progress. Suddenly, he made me stop working and pulled me away from the picture saying, “Sometimes, you just have to step back from what you’re doing and look at the big picture”. In my desire for perfection of a single spot, I had lost sight of the overall picture and how that small section fit into the larger design.

Stepping back I saw what I had forgotten in my miniscule search for perfection; that each smaller section did not necessarily need to be an independent masterpiece, but that each was a piece of a larger, whole, and beautiful picture when seen in its entirety. What was more, I had grown frustrated with my inability to achieve perfection in that one section and my frustration had begun to spill over onto the rest of the picture.

In science, I have often reflected back on that advice. It’s far too easy to get caught up chasing the perfection of a single experiment in the lab and forgetting how the results of our efforts have affected the entirety of the science community. Review articles are often an excellent opportunity to take that step back and reflect on the larger picture, marveling in how the many little sections make a larger, more beautiful masterpiece. They can also be used to highlight the areas of interest that could still use more attention.

In one such review article, Santiago Roura takes us all the way back to the beginning of the bioluminescence field and walks us forward through the marvelous tapestry that is bioluminescence imaging (BLI). Specifically, his group was focusing on the potential for which BLI is improving and could still greatly improve the field of cardiac regeneration.

In the field of cardiac regeneration, there are really only 3 options for cell tracking: paramagenetic labeling for MRI, radioactive labeling for PET (positron emission tomography) and SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography), and reporter gene transduction for BLI. An MRI has a high resolution, but relatively low detection sensitivity. PET and SPECT have great sensitivity and resolution, but require expensive facilities and are limited by the need for radioactive materials which, by nature, decline in reactivity. But BLI signals do not decline and have excellent sensitivity, but they also suffer the disadvantage of light attenuation through dense animal tissue. As previously noted by Christopher Contaq et al., “One limitation of BLI is attenuation and scattering of light by tissues. For each centimeter of tissue, hemoglobin, as well as other endogenous molecules, may reduce optical signals by a factor of 10” (Contaq, 1995).

However, as reported by Ngan Huang et al. (Huang, 2012), there have been advances in three-dimensional tomographic reconstructions as well as a number of BLI imaging advancements (better CCD detectors, specialized filters, and enhanced spectral analysis techniques) which will help to eventually alleviate those issues and allow the BLI technology to finally shine in the area of cardiac regeneration.

As Dr. Roura says in conclusion, “In BLI, diverse technological fields such as molecular biology, genetics, stem cell therapy and bioimaging converge; …chang(ing) the view of both researchers and clinicians carrying regenerative medicine, including cardiac regeneration, into a new era.” And I like where that picture is headed.

Roura, S., Gálvez‐Montón, C., & Bayes‐Genis, A. (2013). Bioluminescence imaging: a shining future for cardiac regeneration. Journal of cellular and molecular medicine. 17(6), 693-703.

Contag, C. H., Contag, P. R., Mullins, J. I., Spilman, S. D., Stevenson, D. K., & Benaron, D. A. (1995). Photonic detection of bacterial pathogens in living hosts. Molecular microbiology, 18(4), 593-603.

Huang, N. F., Okogbaa, J., Babakhanyan, A., & Cooke, J. P. (2012). Bioluminescence imaging of stem cell-based therapeutics for vascular regeneration. Theranostics, 2(4), 346.