Facilitating the Collaborative Spirit of Research

Petar Grozdanov, Ph.D. and the Molecular Biology and Imaging Analysis Core Facilities transform health care through innovative technology and collaborative spirit


The new vision at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) aims to transform health care through innovation and collaboration. Our vision is not only about the biggest names in science and leadership—everyone plays a vital role. This series seeks to highlight innovative individuals and groups that work together to create transformative ideas and shape health care, revealing what makes this university extraordinary.

student using CORE facilities

Archana Muthusubramanian, from Dr. Gail Cornwall’s laboratory, is taking pictures of amyloid present in the mouse epididymis using the Nikon Eclipse Ti microscope equipped with an advanced confocal system in the Image Analysis Core. Often, amyloids are associated with neurodegenerative diseases and prionopathies such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (“mad cow disease”). However, increasing evidence shows amyloids can perform biological roles. Dr. Cornwall’s laboratory works on determining the physiological functions of amyloids in the reproductive tract and brain.

 

The Image Analysis and Molecular Biology Core Facilities, or “the Core" facilities, are research laboratories located on the 4th and 5th floors at the TTUHSC campus in Lubbock. These facilities provide unique opportunities and support for the faculty, staff and students at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) in their pursuit of groundbreaking research. By providing instruments that otherwise would not be available, the Core Facilities support the TTUHSC community in their drive to advance knowledge through innovative research.

transforming health care through technology
“Our facilities provide state-of-the-art instrumentation to support experimental demands for faculty, students and staff.” said Petar Grozdanov, Ph.D., director of the Image Analysis and Molecular Biology Core Facilities. “Expertise and advice are available for the design of experiments using microscopic and molecular biology approaches and technologies.”

Douglas Stocco, Ph.D., founded the facilities in 2011, when he was the TTUHSC’s Executive Vice President for Research. Stocco has since retired, but the Core Facilities remain a vital part of the research process for many at TTUHSC.

“About half of my time is devoted to running the Cores, and the other half is devoted to performing my own scientific research in the Department of Cell Biology and Biochemistry in the School of Medicine,” said Grozdanov, who is no stranger to handling many tasks simultaneously. Running the Cores entails theoretical and practical application of the equipment, coordinating service and maintenance for the instruments, promoting the use of the facilities, providing training for individuals who use the instruments and overseeing the operating budget.

confocal imaging example

Functional amyloids are expressed and secreted by H+V-ATPase positive apical cells in the mouse epididymis. Confocal images show several members of the CRES family of amyloidogenic precursors. Reprinted with the kind permission of Dr. Gail Cornwall and the journal of Human Molecular Reproduction (https://academic.oup.com/molehr/article/22/11/729/2418642).

 

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While Grozdanov’s personal dedication is clear and admirable, collaboration is the crucial part of what the facilities are designed to provide. Grozdanov commends and encourages that element of the research process.


“The nature of all research is collaborative,” Grozdanov said. “Nowadays, a single laboratory or facility cannot complete all the tasks required for successful manuscript publications or grant applications. The Core facilities encourage that collaborative spirit.”

“Faculty members often need to provide detailed descriptions of the instruments available to them for successful grant applications on the national level,” said Grozdanov. “The Core facilities provide support to the grant applicants, enhancing their probability of obtaining funding.”

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While so many elements of education have been interrupted by COVID-19, the functionality of this space remains.

“Overall the operation of the Core facilities has stayed the same during this unprecedented time,” said Grozdanov. “This shows the resilience of the research faculty and their strong commitment to the research mission of the institution.”

Not only are these facilities safe, functional and useful for researchers, they are constantly working on expanding and improving.

“I’m always pleased to hear all the excellent feedback about issues that might arise from the use of the instruments,” said Grozdanov. “I try to emphasize how important it is to have immediate feedback if something goes wrong or does not go as expected with the instruments. In those cases, I can take appropriate action to remedy the issue and provide continuous operational service.”

In addition to Grozdanov’s commitment to the continued functionality of the laboratories’ current instruments, he also helps seek new technology for the laboratories by providing advice to the Senior Vice President for Research Min Kang, Ph.D., and the Research Council regarding the acquisition of new equipment and upgrades to existing equipment.

confocal microscope image

The Image Analysis Core allows researchers to produce impactful images to illustrate their scientific discoveries. This is a low magnification (10x) confocal microscope image of two adult male and female blood flukes (Schistosoma mansoni), a type of parasitic water-borne worm that live in human blood vessels close to the intestines, causing intestinal schistosomiasis. Adult blood flukes live as a paired couple: the slender red-blue worm is the female, while the yellow-green males are more robust, muscular and larger. The yellow-green color shows the Sm-p80 protein. Dr. Siddiqui and his laboratory are developing a vaccine that targets Sm-p80 to treat the disease. With the kind permission of Dr. Afzal Siddiqui, Dr. Weidong Zhang, Dr. Adebayo Molehin, and Dr. Souad Sennoune.

the art of scientific imaging subheader text

The Image Analysis and Molecular Biology Core Facilities are packed with unique, cutting-edge technology and instrumentation. When asked to highlight a particular piece of equipment, Grozdanov pointed out the confocal microscope—noting not only its scientific value, but the beauty that the imaging provides.

“My favorite instrument is the confocal microscope,” Grozdanov said, clarifying that confocal microscopy is a method to examine the structure of small samples like cells. He went on to explain that investigators use this microscope to view thin “slices” of biological samples, stacking all the slices together to get a three-dimensional view of the whole sample. An invaluable tool to TTUHSC’s scientists, it is the most frequently used of the facilities’ instruments.

“I like this microscope because the images taken can be seen as a form of art as well,” Grozdanov said. “The images display vibrant colors and shapes often never seen before, reflecting the structural and functional fabric of life.”

No matter what the research entails, any project that goes on within the Core facilities is made possible by these remarkable tools. Grozdanov takes pleasure in being available for those embarking on such incredible pursuits, and being able to assist them on their journey.

“I am proud of all the scientific discoveries that are made using the Core equipment,” said Grozdanov.

Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, originally a part of the School of Medicine, became a separate school in 1994 to coordinate the training of biomedical scientists.

A small student body, a diverse faculty and a low student-faculty ratio are factors that promote learning and encourage interaction between students. These unique factors create a highly competitive environment for students applying each year.