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Powerful New Microscope Puts UD at Forefront in Biomedical Imaging

The University of Delaware is now one of only a handful of universities with a microscope so powerful that researchers can measure a single molecule within a cell.

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Newswise — The University of Delaware is now one of only a handful of universities with a microscope so powerful that researchers can measure a single molecule within a cell.

The instrument, a Zeiss LSM780 laser-scanning confocal microscope, was purchased through a $496,000 competitive grant awarded to UD from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and an additional $65,000 from the Department of Biological Sciences at UD.

Confocal microscopes allow scientists to visualize the inner workings of cells and tissues with spectacular clarity. UD's new microscope will aid biomedical researchers at the University in making discoveries relevant to the development of cardiovascular disease, cataracts, osteoporosis, arthritis and cancer, as well as contribute to the development of biomaterials for repairing or replacing damaged tissues.

Melinda Duncan, professor and director of graduate programs in the Department of Biological Sciences, and Kirk Czymmek, associate professor of biological sciences and director of the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) Bio-Imaging Center at UD, developed the successful proposal.

The state-of-the-art microscope not only can track the movement of molecules at very high speed, but it also can measure very large objects such as an entire eye, says Duncan, who does research on cataracts.

“The experiments we can do now are as good as, or better than, those of our peers. There are questions we can answer now that we never could before,” Duncan notes.

Among the coolest things Duncan's been able to see for the first time, thanks to the new research tool, are the ball and sockets found on the outside of lens fiber cells. Previously, these structures were only viewable with an electron microscope, which limited possible research studies of their function.

Another colleague, Liyun Wang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is examining how fluids diffuse through bone in her research to develop efficient drug delivery systems to treat osteoporosis and arthritis.

“For the first time, we can measure these things,” Duncan says. “And our productivity is much higher because we can collect and save the data much faster with a device that has modern lasers, computers and electronics compared to our old microscope."

The new microscope will help advance the research of 10 priority users at UD, currently funded by NIH for studies ranging from tissue engineering to breast cancer metastasis.