Down to the Core: Not Your Average Microscope

Technology is changing how researchers look at a variety of samples using microscopes. Microscopes and other laboratory equipment used in the past have traditionally required years for researchers to look into the complexities of tissues and cells. New technology in the last decade has vastly improved scientists’ ability to view samples at resolutions previously unattainable.

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) will unveil its new state-of-the-art Image Analysis Core Facility with an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. March 20 at 3601 Fourth St., Room 5AB100.

TTUHSC is one of only three institutions in Texas to have this type of capability. The new 1,200-square-foot facility will house more than $2 million of laboratory equipment.

The most powerful instrument in the Core Facility is a Nikon TiE confocal microscope equipped with an option known as N-STORM (Nikon Stochastic Optical Resolution Microscopy). This ultra-high resolution microscope enlarges images 6,000 to 10,000 times larger than the human eye can see.

The microscope utilizes fluorescent probes to mark molecules in the cells. It scans the images 50,000 times or more, and within an hour can produce intricate images of the smallest structures within the samples. The images can also be combined to produce a 3-D model on a computer screen, so that the model can be moved to undergo more intricate analysis.

Douglas Stocco, Ph.D., TTUHSC executive vice president for research and dean of Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, said a wide range of TTUHSC scientists now have tools to help them describe cell functions occurring that could not be observed in the recent past.

“When you look at it from the researcher's perspective, you’re always trying to see things in greater detail,” Stocco said. “This new core facility is providing just that — some of the best resolution available to researchers across the country. With our new confocal microscope we are able to resolve images at the level of individual molecules within the cell.”

One of the uses of such analytical power would be to image how viruses enter cells, potentially providing better ways to prevent them from doing so. It also allows investigators to study how proteins interact to understand cell function in normal and disease states.

Raul Martinez-Zaguilan, Ph.D., director of the Core Facility, said it is more important than ever to acquire data from experiments in an increasing level of detail.

“It gives us another level of information that we didn’t have before,” Martinez-Zaguilan said. “With this equipment, the cell is alive. With the other, the cell was dead.

For example, the Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy generates slices from microscopic samples by means of optics. The sample stays intact, and the slicing may be repeated many times. However, the image is blurred and lacks detail. Martinez-Zaguilan said now with the aid of new optical modalities more detailed information can be obtained not previously available with any other type of optics. Further, the sample can be rotated and viewed at all angles.

“With this technology, we can perform experiments that could not be done before. Hopefully it will open up more opportunities to obtain funding from research organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and others as we demonstrate our ability to produce state-of-the-art science.”

For more breaking news and experts, follow @ttuhscnews on Twitter.

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