Research Campus to be among first to receive cutting-edge microscopes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Emily Ford
Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS ó Cutting-edge microscopes coming soon to the N.C. Research Campus are so exciting that Dr. Mihai Niculescu can’t stop thinking about them.
Even when he sleeps.
“When I found out they were purchased, I started dreaming about science at night,” said Niculescu, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Scientists and Research Campus executives on Tuesday announced a multi-million-dollar deal with Carl Zeiss MicroImaging Inc., which will supply microscopes and imaging systems for the campus in Kannapolis.
Zeiss also will place a full-time employee at the Research Campus and has named the campus as a testing site for its new technology, an honor that could attract scientists from around the globe.
These developments in microscopy ó the science of using microscopes ó have elevated the Research Campus from a research park to a world-class science institute, said Randy Allen, a consultant for the David H. Murdock Research Institute, which will own and operate the Core Lab.
“This is how we are different from Harvard, Yale and Salk,” Allen said.
Star of the show
The star of Tuesday’s press conference, the one invading Niculescu’s dreams, was the LSM 710 Confocal Microscope.
Currently in production in Germany, where Carl Zeiss Inc. was founded 160 years ago, the instrument is so new that the Research Campus will be among the first institutions in the world to take delivery of one.
In one of the largest single transactions made by any institute with Carl Zeiss MicroImaging, the Research Campus has purchased three of the laser scanning microscopes, plus dozens of others. Together, the instruments will outfit the Integrated Microscopy Laboratory, a highly anticipated part of the Core Lab.
All universities with a presence on the Research Campus will have access to the equipment for a fee.
The instruments will generate “data that we hope will transform the health of humankind,” said Victoria Christian, chief operating officer for Duke University’s long-term health study based at the Research Campus.
Researchers could use the instruments to help answer fundamental questions such as why some people get cancer and others don’t, or what causes a disease like epilepsy, said Alex Soell, product marketing manager for Zeiss.
Scientists will use the equipment to conduct basic research about why cells misfunction, Soell said.
Kannapolis City Council member Darrell Hinnant asked if the technology could help reveal what happens at a cellular level to cause juvenile diabetes.
“Everything starts from a cell that doesn’t function properly,” Niculescu said. “This would be ideal for that.”
Armed with that knowledge, researchers eventually can create new drugs and other therapies to treat, cure or prevent disease. This process takes many years, Soell said.
“We will never run out of questions,” he said.
New understanding
Integrated with other instruments in the Core Lab, like the one-of-a-kind 950 MHz superconducting magnet, the Zeiss microscopes will allow scientists to understand biological systems “at a level that could not be imagined even a few years ago,” said Dr. Steve Lommel, interim associate dean for research at N.C. State University.
“We are going to be able to do the kind of science that has never been done before,” Lommel said.
The microscopes will be ready to ship when the Core Lab opens this summer. Zeiss will have the on-site consultant in place by then, said Kenny Patterson, national sales manager.
The microscopy lab will occupy about 3,000 square feet on the fourth floor of the David H. Murdock Core Laboratory Building, including three specially built rooms dedicated for the three laser scanning microscopes.
Using the new instruments, scientists can take images not only of dead tissue but also live tissue.
“Imaging live cells is incredibly challenging,” Patterson said.
The new technology allows researchers to keep live cells “happy and comfortable” for days instead of hours, enabling them to take thousands of digital images, Soell said.
Zeiss images on display at Restaurant Forty-Six in Cannon Village give diners an example of what researchers can see with these microscopes.
Recruiting tool
The search for a director of the Core Lab, which has been described as the heart of the Research Campus, continues “deliberately and rapidly,” said Lommel, who sits on the David H. Murdock Research Institute’s board of directors.
Campus leaders said they did not worry about purchasing millions of dollars of equipment without a director in place.
“I feel very comfortable with the equipment,” Lommel said.
Scientists at other core labs around the country have vetted the instruments, he said, and the equipment itself will serve as a recruiting tool.
The director search is one of the only times campus founder David Murdock has said, “slow down,” said Lynne Scott Safrit, president of Castle & Cooke.
“Let’s take our time and find the right person,” she said Murdock told her.
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