The possibility to quantitatively study specific molecular/cellular features of complete human organs with preserved spatial 3D context would have widespread implications for pre-clinical and clinical medicine. Whereas optical 3D imaging approaches have experienced a formidable revolution, they have remained limited due to current incapacities in obtaining specific labelling within large tissue volumes. We present a simple approach enabling reconstruction of antibody labeled cells within entire human organs with preserved organ context. We demonstrate the utility of the approach by providing volumetric data and 3D distribution of hundreds of thousands of islets of Langerhans within the human pancreas. By assessments of pancreata from non-diabetic and type 2 diabetic individuals, we display previously unrecognized features of the human islet mass distribution and pathology. As such, this method may contribute not only in unraveling new information of the pancreatic anatomy/pathophysiology, but it may be translated to essentially any antibody marker or organ system.
Hahn et al. present a method to visualize the endocrine human pancreas in 3D and calculate volumetric data. Using immunolabeling to visualize targets of interest and in reconstructing large tissue parts from imaged cm3-sized tissue blocks, they use their method to reveal previously unknown morphological differences in the endocrine pancreas affected with type 2 diabetes.