Advanced imagery equipment helping us find ways to stop cancer

In a recent interview with Zeiss, one of the worlds leading manufacturers of biomedical research and medical technology, Dr Scott Page, Manager of the ACRF Telomere Analysis Centre (Children’s Medical Research Institute) discusses how microscopy is playing its role in scientific research & how this may also one day help up stop cancer.

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What is the biggest research question that the Children’s Medical Research Institute faces today?

The Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI) is recognized internationally for its research programs, focusing on four main areas: neurobiology, cancer, embryology and birth defects, and gene therapy. There are big questions being addressed in all of these areas at CMRI. One of these big questions is whether we can find ways to slow or stop cancer growth by disabling mechanisms that cancer cells use to escape the normal limits on proliferation. Almost all cancers activate mechanisms that maintain the structures at chromosome ends called telomeres, which would otherwise shorten and eventually trigger a shutdown of the cell cycle. The ACRF Telomere Analysis Centre (ATAC) was established to support telomere researchers by providing specialised imaging equipment to work toward answering this and other research questions about telomeres in cancer, aging, and group of rare diseases called short telomere syndromes.

Where do you see an advanced imaging facility fitting in and assisting with your areas of research?

As an advanced imaging facility, ATAC can provide the instrumentation, training and support to researchers who are embarking on new lines of research. ATAC supports research on telomeres and cancer, but will eventually assist with a broad range of research projects. CMRI has perhaps the largest number of telomere researchers at any one place in the world. This group of researchers believe that advanced microscopy techniques including live cell imaging and super-resolution will allow them to overcome a number of technical difficulties that are currently limiting major progress in the telomere field, in which fixed cell analysis and molecular techniques are more commonly used. For example, telomeres are known to be dynamic structures and the live cell imaging capabilities at ATAC will be critically important in deciphering telomere activity in the three-dimensional environment of the nucleus.

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How has the uptake of the new technology been received by the users?

As part of establishing ATAC, some of the technology we acquired was familiar to the users and some of the technology was completely new. This has allowed many of the researchers to begin using some of the new instruments very quickly and easily, so they remain productive while learning more about the instruments and features that are new to them. New technology, like the LSM 880 and Airyscan has been very popular with a small group of users which is growing as more researchers begin to imagine the experiments that are now possible using the instruments.

What is the most important aspect to consider when introducing new technology into existing research teams and processes?

Training, in two ways. Firstly, training is needed to ensure that those who intend to use the new technology have an understanding of the theory and practical know-how to use the instruments effectively and safely. Secondly, but also importantly, is the need to train people who are accustomed to an existing procedure or protocol to accept the idea that changes to their procedures may be needed to use the new technology to its fullest extent.

Do you have any advice for any aspiring researchers wishing to advance their fields of research through leading-edge microscope technologies?

My advice would be to learn as much as you can about microscopy techniques. Strive to understand how the technologies work, meaning everything from sample prep, to the microscope components, to image processing and analysis. Researchers that push their research forward using the latest microscope technologies tend to have a deep interest and understanding of those technologies. This allows them to optimize their techniques to fully exploit the technology or, when that’s not enough, develop new technology of their own.

For more information on Dr Cohen’s work & the ACRF Telomere Analysis Centre  at Children’s Medical Research Institute, please click here.

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