Amazing advances in microscope facility

A research equipment grant of $365,000 from the Cancer Institute of NSW has enabled the ANZAC Research Institute to purchase an incredibly powerful microscope which allows scientists to examine cells within living animals.

advances in microscope facility - Dr Vivien Chen

A research equipment grant of $365,000 from the Cancer Institute of NSW has enabled the ANZAC Research Institute to purchase a remarkably powerful microscope which allows scientists to examine cells within living animals. Already the high speed, multichannel fluorescence microscope is providing state of the art images and assisting researchers in many fields to advance their projects.

The application for the equipment grant was co-ordinated across ten research groups within the ANZAC Research Institute, the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute and the Centenary Institute, all of which are now seeing significant benefits.

Dr Vivien Chen, Staff Specialist Haematologist at Concord Hospital and Leader of the Platelet and Thrombosis Research Laboratory at ARI, says recent developments in microscopy have contributed to astonishing advances in scientists’ ability to produce images of biological processes.
“We can put a live mouse onto the platform, then, by fluorescent tagging the cells, activation markers, or proteins of interest, we can directly visualise events occurring in real time within our animal models.

advances in microscope facility - microscope images

“My group is interested in the process of blood clot formation in the context of heart attack, stroke or cancer, all condition which have associated deep venous thrombosis. Using this microscope, we can image the blood flow within a vessel and watch the blood clot. For the first time, we can measure the rate of individual platelets as they come in to form the clot and monitor the stabilising proteins as they form around the blood clot.

“Thus, when we develop drugs for inhibiting blood clot formation, in our search for therapies for improving outcomes after a heart attack or stroke, or for prevention of deep vein thrombosis or potentially fatal pulmonary embolism, we don’t just have to test it in a test tube. We can evaluate them in a live model where all the components of the clotting system are together: the blood vessel, the blood components and the forces of blood flow. This becomes a very powerful experiment bringing us much closer to translation to the clinic.”

Dr Chen explains that the microscope also allows researchers to look at the underlying mechanism of biological processes.

“So if you’re interested in a particular protein and a particular pathway you can modify that pathway either genetically or pharmacologically, and by comparing that mouse with a wild-type mouse with the pathway intact, you can get some powerful information about how that pathway is working in that biological system.”

The new equipment is proving to be invaluable in cancer research. Being able to view a live animal means, for example, that researchers can watch to see how a drug is able to get within a tumour. The team at the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute is using fluorescence to see how deeply a drug penetrates a tumour and which cells it is getting into. The Biogenerentology group can directly image drugs as they are delivered to the liver cells.

Another example of the use of this powerful microscope is the Northcott Neurogenetics group who are investigating inherited forms of nerve damage due to inherited defects in pathways that nerves require to function over long distances. To mimic that disease in the laboratory, those neuroscientists working on new treatment targets uses worms that glow fluorescently so they can study these living organisms viewed under the microscope. By this means the scientists can study for the first time the direct effects of an abnormal gene or protein suspected of causing human nerve damage on the worm’s ability to move normally.

As Dr Chen says, the new equipment has been a welcome addition to the facilities available at the ANZAC Research Institute, enabling researchers in various fields to continue to contribute at the highest level internationally. In particular, it provides a valuable step in the process of translating the findings in fundamental research made at the Institute into the development of new treatments for disease.