HMRI has just purchased a scientific instrument vital to its research—a Zeiss LSM 510 META confocal microscope. Half the funds for the purchase were provided by the Altadena Guild of Huntington Hospital, a major funding partner of HMRI for over 60 years. The microscope greatly enhances the ability of HMRI neural engineers and neurologists to conduct detailed in-house research.
“We received a great deal of assistance from the Altadena Guild to purchase this instrument, for which we are very grateful,” said Dr. Douglas McCreery, director of HMRI’s Neural Engineering program. “With the confocal microscope, we now have the ability to visually reach down into tissue and obtain a three-dimensional reconstruction of all of the different cell types. Doing this same work with a conventional microscope is extremely laborious and time-consuming, which is what we had to do prior to the confocal microscope.”
A confocal microscope allows examination of a specimen in such a way that extremely high detail is obtained. Specific molecules can be isolated and examined by placing fluorescent dyes within antibodies which attach themselves to the molecules. A laser is used to cause the dyes to “light up” and be seen within the microscope.
Because the microscope can also reach downward within a specimen, specific detail can be viewed which cannot be obtained with a conventional light microscope. “For a conventional microscope, specimens must be cut into thin sections,” explained Dr. Martin Han, biomedical engineer and staff scientist in HMRI’s Neural Engineering program. “Whenever you cut tissue sections, you sacrifice a little bit of detail of the top and bottom. When you can examine it all together in one specimen, you preserve much of the existing tissue as it is, instead of losing 5 to 10 percent of everything you cut.”
The microscope has already been put to immediate use within HMRI. In research dealing with neurological implants, it is being used to view the results of long-term implantation. “On a cellular level, we are studying the interaction between the brain and the device we put into the brain,” said Han. “Prior to having the confocal microscope, we did some work using a confocal microscope at Caltech. The advantage of our new microscope over others is that it is motorized. We would have to manually scan a large area which took a long time and was very expensive. Now, we can automate the moving of one area to the next. It saves a lot of time and reduces human error.”
“Having the equipment here, I can actually turn it on, leave it on for 24 hours, and let it scan whatever it needs to scan for an indefinite period,” added Haison Duong, HMRI Neural Engineering research associate “That increases the workflow quite a bit. I can basically calibrate all the settings and let it work on its own.”
Another area of research utilizing the microscope is that of migraine headaches. “I plan to use the confocal microscope to look at the fine cellular localization of particular molecules that are involved in a model of migraine that we’re studying,” said Dr. Michael Harrington, director of HMRI’s Molecular Neurology program. “The reason we need a confocal microscope is that if I have two different molecules in the same cell, and they’re in different regions of the cell, there’s no way a regular microscope will unequivocally let me know where things are. That’s why we need the confocal microscope: we need what we refer to as sub-cellular localization.”
In addition to the microscope itself, an attached computer and software is utilized for three-dimensional renderings after observation. Such renderings make it possible to view specimens from multiple angles, and also “stitch” together different images to create one all-encompassing image.
Due to the capability of bringing detailed research completely in-house, it is expected that the LSM 510 META confocal microscope will earn back its purchase price rather quickly. “It will pay for itself within a year, just based on what it costs us per hour to go to another facility,” noted Duong.