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Major Investment in New Microscope Technologies in York

University of York

8:54am 20th February 2013

A project to drive forward the understanding of key biological processes by developing new microscope technologies has received a £2m funding boost.

The new technologies will allow researchers to answer previously inaccessible questions related to cell biology, cancer, learning and memory, and molecular/cellular microbiology, say the University of York.

Led by the University of York and the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute (CRUK LRI), the project aims to combine light and electron microscopes into a single system to analyse how cells and tissues change during disease and infection.

The Medical Research Council (MRC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have announced over £1m funding for the project, with additional investment from the University of York, CRUK and commercial collaborators.

The research councils’ award is part of the cross-Council Next Generation Optical Microscopy initiative, launched in May 2012. Under the initiative, an international panel of experts has awarded a total of £24.5m funding to 17 cutting edge microscopy projects, say the University of York..

They add that novel instrumentation and approaches led by York and CRUK LRI will integrate light and electron microscopy for seamless imaging, which researchers will use to address a host of key biomedical questions in collaboration with world-leading scientists at the two institutes and across the UK.

The new light microscope combined with an electron microscope being developed at York is the only one of its kind in Europe, say the University of York. They add that applications include imaging of subcellular processes related to cancer, better understanding of tumour biology and cancer cell invasion, and new insights into neurodegenerative diseases.

The project is led by Dr Peter O’Toole of the Imaging & Cytometry Laboratory in York’s Department of Biology, in collaboration with Dr Lucy Collinson of the Electron Microscopy Unit at CRUK LRI.  Also involved are instrument manufacturers JEOL and DELMIC.

Dr O’Toole said: “Currently light microscopes allow us to watch real time events in cells and tissues so that we can understand basic biological functions and the changes that occur in disease and infection. Electron microscopes have taught us much about the fine details of cellular structures thanks to their fantastic resolution, but living material cannot be readily imaged and must be 'fixed' to halt the processes of life.

“Our approach is based on exploiting new ways of preparing cells and tissues, so that they can be seen simultaneously using light and electrons. This novel project will now combine the two microscopes to produce more informative images and help solve a multitude of biomedical questions.”

Dr Richard Treisman, Director of the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute, said: “This exciting new initiative to combine light and electron microscopy in 3D will open a new window into how cells and tissues function in health and disease.

“These new microscopes will not only benefit the world-leading researchers from the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute, paving the way to a greater understanding of cancer; they will also drive forward research into a number of other diseases through our collaboration with the University of York and through access for the wider UK biomedical research community.”

Professor Deborah Smith, Head of York’s Department of Biology, said: “This project brings together a multidisciplinary team of biologists, microscopists and instrument engineers, which will allow us to advance the field of microscopy to a new dimension.  We are excited that our challenging ideas for new developments in this important research area can now be advanced by the award of this prestigious funding.”

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