top of page


X-ray-based 3D histology of the human tongue and its coating using contrast-enhanced microCT imaging

L Mazy(1,2,4) C Melsens(1) C Kummeler(1) P Schneidewind(2) G Pyka(1,2) M Grobbelaar(3) G Kerckhofs(1,2,4,5)

1:Institute of Mechanics, Materials, and Civil Engineering, UCLouvain; 2:Institute of Experimental and Clinical Research, UCLouvain; 3:Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University; 4:Materials Engineering, KU Leuven; 5:Prometheus, Division of Skeletal Tissue Engineering, KU Leuven

Tuberculosis (TB) affects millions of people globally, causing significant health and economic burdens. Detecting TB remains, however, challenging. Traditional diagnostic methods still face limitations in terms of safety and ease of access to the samples to be tested. Tongue swabs for taking tongue coating samples, in which the TB bacteria reside, offer a good solution regarding safety and ease of use, showing promising sensitivity and specificity for TB detection.

However, currently used tongue swabs are not designed for TB detection and do not capture sufficient bacterial load per swab. To improve the design of tongue swabs, we aim to get inspiration from the tongue surface anatomy and the spatial distribution of its coating. For this purpose, we performed X-ray-based 3D histology of a human tongue using contrast-enhanced microfocus computed tomography (CECT). Hafnium-Wells Dawson polyoxometalate was applied as X-ray opaque contrast-enhancing staining agent to stain small tissue samples, which were then imaged using microCT. CECT images allowed to differentiate the tongue surface/epithelium from the tongue coating, as confirmed by classical 2D histology.

3D renderings of the tongue surface revealed the different types of papillae between which the TB bacteria could reside. 3D renderings of the tongue coating showed a heterogeneous distribution with clear ‘hot spots’. We use this combined info as inspiration for novel tongue swab designs

bottom of page