Huge investment in York’s microscopy

Wellcome Images

Credit: Wellcome Images

The University of York’s Department of Biology has, for a long time, prided itself on its high tech microscopy unit and the research carried out there. This meant that new investment of £1 million, not including extra funding for the University of York, is highly welcomed and exciting news.

This partnership of Cancer Research UK London Research Institute (CRUK LRI) and the University of York hope to increase and develop research into what happens to cells when they are diseased or infected.

The project will focus on combining both light and electron transmitting microscopes into the same machine so new ways of observing cells will become possible. The issue is that there are several advantages and disadvantages to using light and electron transmitting microscopes.

Electron microscopes have certain advantages over optical microscopes:
• There is a much higher resolution and magnification (up to 2 million times more).
• Electron microscopes, such as Scanning Electron Microscopes, can produce 3D images.
• Electron beams give you a deeper field of vision.
• Staining can be used on samples to select specific parts of the sample to observe. E.g. a specific protein.

Electron microscopes have a range of disadvantages as well:
• They are extremely expensive.
• The sample must be dry, so it will not look exactly like a living sample.
• There is no way to see natural colours (of cells).
• High radiation levels from the electron beam also mean the sample must be dead.
• Training and maintenance costs are intensive.

This project is the only one of its kind in Europe so will allow the University to excel even further in this area. The ways in which this new technology will be applied 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. Together these teams hope to contribute to this area of study with top notch research.

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.”

There is no doubt that this investment hold exciting prospects for this field of study and this feeling is felt throughout the department and by all those involved.

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