Sheffield Institute for
Translational Neuroscience


The latest state of the art imaging equipment bought by you- Thank you from SITraN

The latest state of the art imaging equipment bought by you- Thank you from SITraN

This story starts with our research findings taking us down a road of smaller and smaller biology. Therefore to be able to measure the changes in our disease models caused by genetic changes we need ever more powerful microscopes. These do not come cheap and never in our wildest dreams did we truly think that we could purchase the Opera Phenix (Perkin Elmer), a £400, 000 piece of equipment in just over a years’ fundraising. Needless to say this amount was raised by over 19 of our fantastic supporting groups and individuals, without whose support we could not achieve our world class research, both large and small donations are welcomed with the same appreciation and gratitude.

What is so special about this microscope that makes it so expensive I hear you cry. Well, it is a confocal microscope, that is to say it can focus the light hitting our sample into a single plane, this removes all the blur that is obtained in a normal microscope due to the confounding signal from out of focus objects. For some of our research an ordinary microscope is OK, but some of  the biological features in our research are so small and so faint that the blur, or noise, obscures what we are trying to study. It is also automated, so it can take over 23,000 images overnight of the cells we are studying. This amount of images would at a best guess take at least about 100 days on a manual confocal microscope. There are other details that make it optimum for our purposes, a patented water immersion optic, a proprietary enhanced light delivery called Synchrony™ Optics (10x more light than normal), multi cameras for speed and sensitivity that add together to mean we get the best picture possible of our model systems to try and understand the causes of disease. Even more exciting for me, as I run the drug screening facility here in SITraN, it means we can run drug screens to try and find compounds (possible drugs) that can remove or reduce the number of RNA foci (a pathological hallmark) found in the most common genetic cause of motor neuron disease (MND also known as ALS). We can also increase the throughput of screening of our in vivo fish models, locating and counting specific neurons within the brain of zebrafish. This machine will benefit all our research groups including those studying Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimers, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and Stroke.

Our next challenge is handle the data from all the experiments we want to run, as an overnight experiment could generate as much as half a terabyte of data! That is probably more data than you have stored on your TV at home about 60 hours (HD).

Dr. Adrian Higginbottom- Senior Scientific Officer, Manager Drug Screening Facility.