Like a thief in the night, the malaria parasite did its quick work and vanished inside a blood cell. But someone else was watching.
A team of Australian researchers from the ithree institute at the University of Technology Sydney, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Parkville, and the University of Melbourne have trained a powerful GE microscope at the villain, tracking its every move. The team leader, WEHI’s Dr. Jake Baum, said the microscope provided “a quantum leap in the amount of detail we can see, revealing key molecular and cellular events required for each stage of the invasion process.
“This technology enables us to look at individual proteins that we always knew were involved in invasion, but we never knew what they did or where they were, and that, we believe, is a real leap for malaria researchers worldwide,” Baum said.
Cancer: Metaphase epithelial cell in metaphase stained for microtubules (red), kinetochores (green) and DNA (blue). This image, taken by Indiana University’s Jane Stout, won the GE Healthcare Life Sciences 2012 Imaging Competition. The image will be displayed in Times Square in New York City on an electronic billboard in April. Credit: Jane Stout
Malaria is just one disease in the sights of scientists using the new technology, which GE calls DeltaVision OMX Blaze. They are using it to study bacterial cell division to develop a new generation of antibiotics, observe the response of cancer cells to chemotherapy, and the cell to cell transmission of HIV and other viruses. Scientists can even watch mitosis in living cells, the process of chromosome separation into two identical sets.
The tool’s results have been so extraordinary that Jane Stout, a research associate at Indiana University recently, dubbed the OMX the “OMG.” Stout said that the microscope allowed her to “see details inside the cells at previously unprecedented resolution.” (Her image of a dividing mammalian cell won the GE Healthcare Life Sciences 2012 Imaging Competition. The image will be displayed on an electronic billboard in Times Square in New York City in April.)
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, wrote on his blog that Stout and her colleagues “nicknamed their new microscope ‘OMG’ for good reason – the images it produces are showstoppers.”
The OMX, which GE launched in late 2011, uses a combination of optics and powerful computer algorithms to crash though the diffraction barrier, long thought as the limit for the resolution of optical microscopes. (The barrier stops microscopes from distinguishing between two objects separated by less than approximately half the wavelength of light used to image them.)
The GE technique, called 3D structured illumination microscopy (SIM), more than doubles the resolution in all three dimensions. The result is that the OMX can see objects as small as 100 nanometers, ten times smaller than the typical germ. “It’s a pretty extraordinary feeling, to see moving images of live cells at a greater level of detail than anyone had witnessed before,” said Paul Goodwin, science director for the microscope at GE Healthcare Life Sciences.
The moving things include the bacterial pathogen Staphylococcus aureus. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can cause infections that are difficult to treat with standard antibiotics. Prof. Elizabeth Harry, Associate Prof. Cynthia Whitchurch and Dr. Lynne Turnbull at the UTS ithree institute have been using the microscope to study bacterial cell division in live cells in order to better understand this essential process. “By following the dynamic movements of proteins within live, dividing bacteria, the research will provide a better idea of how bacteria divide and can help in the design of new antibacterial therapies that target this pathway,” said ithree institute director Prof. Ian Charles.
Eric Roman, general manager for research & applied markets at GE Healthcare says that “we are only at the beginning of what this technology can do.”
“The ability to follow cellular interactions, over time at the molecular level will open up new frontiers in so many areas of life science research,” Roman says. “This is a hugely important step for cellular imaging.”
The microscope is for research only. It is not a registered medical device.