New microscope provides breakthrough for cancer treatment and drug discovery

A new microscope has been designed and built at the Centre for Biophotonics of the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences (the Institute).

Unique to Scotland, the new microscope, designed and built by Dr Gail McConnell, Reader and RCUK Academic Fellow, and post-doctoral researcher Dr Wei Zhang (both pictured above with the microscope), uses a less complex laser system than previously available for obtaining crucial highly detailed images of cells, tissues and drugs.

This breakthrough provides scientists at the Institute, and the wider life sciences community, with an easier and significantly cheaper method of obtaining necessary images for their work fighting cancer, neurological conditions as well as for developing new drugs and treatments for a range of diseases.

Supporting the world class work of the Institute, a new £36-million state of the art facility including a specially designed Centre for Biophotonics is due to be completed and officially opened in 2011. The Robertson Trust, a Scottish Charity, has donated £500,000, with specific focus on the new Centre for Biophotonics, towards the £8-million fundraising campaign for the new Institute facility. The campaign has also attracted significant philanthropic support from Charities, Trusts and Strathclyde alumni and is over half way to achieving its target with additional donors still required.

Further acknowledgement of the cutting edge work undertaken at the Centre for Biophotonics is a recent $100,000 (approximately Rs4,611,000 / £65,329) Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant will support an innovative global health research project conducted by Dr McConnell and her colleague Dr Owain Millington, for a laser-targeted system to vaccinate against the virulent leishmania infection.

Duncan Munro of The Robertson Trust said, ''The Robertson Trust is delighted to support the establishment of a new building for the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences. We are particularly pleased to create the Biophotonics Suite, which is pioneering new imaging techniques enabling scientists to look at drugs interacting with tissue in real time, saving time and money in drug discovery and development.''

Commenting on the new microscope, Dr McConnell said: ''This microscope is a breakthrough for biological imaging in Scotland and further afield. By producing chemically specific images of cells and tissue without adding potentially disruptive dyes, life sciences researchers can visualise sub-cellular and cellular structures in three-dimensions and with minimum intervention. This opens up new vistas in live cell imaging and provides biomedical researchers with the unparalleled ability to study biological function, which provides a unique insight into the fundamental spark of life.''

The new microscope removes the need to add often toxic fluorescent labelling normally required to allow scientists to see specific areas of interest within material. This saves time, money and reduces the likelihood of the material becoming disrupted. Through using the new microscope system, together with the chemical properties of the materials themselves, high-definition three-dimensional images needed by scientists can be obtained.

Extending a known microscopy technique, the new imaging platform adopts a simpler, less expensive approach using only one laser and the levels of light involved are sufficiently low so as not to cause cell damage. The microscope development was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council as part of its Technology Development Research Initiative programme in 2007.