Maine-based biophysics institute gets funding for first US-based 4Pi nanoscale microscope

September 08, 2004

Bar Harbor, Maine-The 4Pi Confocal Laser Scanning Microscope is the world's most advanced optical microscope--capable of revealing the nanostructure of genetic material within a cell in three dimensions. The first such instrument is now coming to the United States in 2005, thanks to a $732,624 National Science Foundation grant to a Maine interdisciplinary biophysical research program.

The Institute for Molecular Biophysics brings together expertise in biophysics and engineering at the University of Maine in Orono, molecular and cell biology at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute (MMCRI) in Scarborough, and genetics and genomics at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor. IMB's goal: to explore the structure and function of genes and chromosomes within cells, in order to understand precisely how genes control both normal development and disease.

Once installed at The Jackson Laboratory, the 4Pi microscope will enable the IMB researchers to examine specific structures within a cell-such as a single gene on a chromosome-at a resolution four to seven times greater than previously possible.

"Astronomers have space-based telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope to understand the history and structure of the universe," comments IMB co-director Barbara Knowles of The Jackson Laboratory and the University of Maine. "Physicists have giant particle accelerators to isolate the fundamental elements of energy and matter. Now researchers in genetics and biology have an advanced tool to examine the very structure of the mouse, human and other genomes."

The 4Pi microscope is manufactured by Leica Microsystems in Mannheim, Germany, based on technology developed by Stefen Hell of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany. The "4Pi" designation refers to the unique way in which light is emitted.

"Imagine looking at a satellite image of your state of such high resolution that you can spot the local college football field," says IMB co-director Michael Grunze, who holds joint appointments with the University of Maine, The Jackson Laboratory and the University of Heidelberg in Germany. "Now, imagine being able to see the football itself, in 3D. The 4Pi represents a comparable increase in resolution, only on a nanoscale."

"In addition to applications involving imaging of genes and nuclear structure," says Kenneth A. Ault, MD, director of MMCRI, "our researchers are particularly interested in using this microscope to image large, multi-molecular structures migrating within and across the cell membrane. For example, a recent discovery at MMCRI indicates that controlling the migration of fibroblast growth factor can prevent reocclusion of coronary arteries after angioplasty. We are confident that this fruitful collaboration with the physicists in the IMB will reveal many as yet unsuspected discoveries of value to the medical community."

The National Science Foundation grant for the acquisition of the 4Pi also includes funding for a specialized microscopist, most likely a physicist, to analyze samples on the 4Pi. Grunze anticipates that researchers will be able to send or bring biological samples to the IMB for analysis. "I see biology moving towards specialized high-tech centers like the IMB, bringing in investigators from all over the world," he said.
Initial funding for the IMB was provided by the National Science Foundation's EPSCoR program.

Note: Digital photos of a 4Pi microscope, 4Pi microscopy images, and a backgrounder on 4Pi technology are available. Please contact Joyce Peterson at The Jackson Laboratory.

The Jackson Laboratory, founded 75 years ago, is the world's largest mammalian genetics research institution. Its research staff of more than 350 investigates the genetic basis of cancers, heart disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, glaucoma, diabetes, and many other human diseases and disorders. The Laboratory is also home of the Mouse Genome Database and many other publicly available information resources, and is also an international hub for scientific courses, conferences, training and education-including programs for Maine high school, college, and graduate students.

The University of Maine is the state's land-grant and sea-grant institution and the state's designated research university. UMaine is among the four percent of American universities and colleges classified by the Carnegie Foundation as a Doctoral/Research Extensive institution, the highest classification. As the flagship of the University of Maine System, UMaine has a statewide mission. Its faculty, resources, and programs serve all of Maine and its people through teaching, basic and applied research, and public service outreach.

Maine Medical Center is a non-profit community hospital for the people of central and southern Maine, and is the premier tertiary care center for northern New England. The hospital provides comprehensive inpatient services in all medical specialties. Centers of excellence are being developed in cancer care, heart care, children's services, and other areas building from existing excellence in multi-disciplinary services. MMC is also a teaching hospital, with active programs in undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate medical education. Research is carried out at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute. MMCRI supports patient care and medical education at the hospital, and introduces new and innovative diagnostic modalities into the area for the betterment of regional healthcare. MMCRI is divided into both basic and clinical research divisions, including the Center for Molecular Medicine, the Center for Regenerative Medicine, the Clinician Researcher Division, the Clinical Trials Division, and the Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation.

The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.58 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Leica Microsystems is a leading global designer and producer of innovative high-tech precision optics systems for the analysis of microstructures. It is one of the market leaders in the fields of microscopy, imaging systems, specimen preparation, medical equipment and semiconductor equipment. The company manufactures a broad range of products for numerous applications that require either microscopic visual presentation, measurement, analysis or electron-beam lithography. The company offers system solutions in the areas of life science including biotechnology and medicine, as well as the science of raw materials, industrial quality assurance and the semiconductor industry. The company is represented in over 100 countries, with 10 manufacturing facilities in 7 countries, sales and service organizations in 19 countries and an international network of dealers. With its workforce of about 3,600 employees, turnover is 521 million euros. The international management is headquartered in Wetzlar, Germany.

Jackson Laboratory

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