News Article | May 2, 2017
Studies have suggested a link between fitness and memory, but researchers have struggled to find the mechanism that links them. A new study by University of Illinois researchers found that the key may lie in the microstructure of the hippocampus, a region in the middle of the brain involved in memory processes. Aron Barbey, a professor of psychology, led a group of researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois that used a specialized MRI technique to measure the structural integrity of the hippocampus in healthy young adults and correlated it with their performances on fitness and memory tests. They found that viscoelasticity, a measure of structural integrity in brain tissue, was correlated with fitness and memory performance - much more so than simply looking at the size of the hippocampus. "Using a new tool to examine the integrity of the hippocampus in healthy young adults could tell us more about how this region functions and how to predict decline for early intervention," Barbey said. "By the time we look at diseases states, it's often too late." Prior research led by Illinois psychology professor Neal Cohen, who is also a co-author on the new paper, demonstrated that the hippocampus is critical for relational memory and that the integrity of this region predicts a host of neurodegenerative diseases. To date, much research on the hippocampus' structure has focused on its size. Studies in developing children and declining older adults have found strong correlations between hippocampal size and memory. However, size does not seem to matter as much in healthy young adults, said postdoctoral researcher Hillary Schwarb. The Illinois group looked instead at the microstructure of the tissue, using an emerging neuroimaging tool called magnetic resonance elastography. The method involves an MRI scan, but with a pillow under the subject's head vibrating at a very low amplitude - as gentle as driving on the interstate, Schwarb said. The vibration is the key to measuring the structural integrity of the hippocampus. "It's a lot like sending ripples through a still pond - if there's some large thing like a boulder under the surface, the ripples are going to displace around it," Schwarb said. "We are sending waves through the brain and reconstructing the displacements into a map we can look at and measure." The study, published in the journal NeuroImage, found that those who performed better on the fitness test tended to also perform better on the memory task, confirming a correlation the group had noticed before. But by adding the information on the structure of the hippocampus, the researchers were able to find a possible pathway for the link. They found that the subjects with higher fitness levels also had more elastic tissue in the hippocampus. The tissue structure, in turn, was associated with memory. "We found that when the hippocampus is more elastic, memory is better. An elastic hippocampus is like a firm foam mattress pad that pops right back up after you get up," said study co-author Curtis Johnson, a former graduate researcher at the Beckman Institute who is now a professor at the University of Delaware. "When the hippocampus is more viscous, memory is worse. A viscous hippocampus is like a memory-foam mattress that holds its shape even after you get up." The results suggest that the viscoelasticity of the hippocampus may be the mediating factor in the relationship between fitness and memory in healthy young adults. "It also shows us that magnetic resonance elastography is a useful tool for understanding tissue microsctructure, and that microstructure is important to cognition," Schwarb said. "This provides us a new level of analysis for studying the human brain."
News Article | April 13, 2017
Detecting cancer early, just as changes are beginning in DNA, could enhance diagnosis and treatment as well as further our understanding of the disease. A new study by University of Illinois researchers describes a method to detect, count and map tiny additions to DNA called methylations, which can be a warning sign of cancer, with unprecedented resolution. The method threads DNA strands through a tiny hole, called a nanopore, in an atomically thin sheet of material with an electrical current running through it. The study was published in the inaugural issue of the journal npj 2D Materials and Applications, a new journal from Nature Press. “One or a few methylations is not a big deal, but if there are many of them and they are packed close together, then it’s bad,” says study leader Jean-Pierre Leburton, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois. “DNA methylation is actually a starting process for cancer. So we want to detect how many of them there are and how close together they are. That can tell us at which stage the cancer is.” Other attempts at using nanopores to detect methylation have been limited in resolution. Researchers begin by punching a tiny hole in a flat sheet of material only one atom or molecule thick. The pore is submerged in a salt solution and an electrical current is applied to drive the DNA molecule through the pore. Dips in the current alert researchers that a methyl group is passing through. However, when two or three are close together, the pore interprets it as one signal, Leburton says. The Illinois group tried a slightly different approach. They applied a current directly to the conductive sheet surrounding the pore. Working with Klaus Schulten, a professor of physics at Illinois, Leburton’s group at Illinois’ Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology used advanced computer simulations to test applying current to different flat materials, such as graphene and molybdenum disulfide, as methylated DNA was threaded through. “Our simulations indicate that measuring the current through the membrane instead of just the solution around it is much more precise,” Leburton says. “If you have two methylations close together, even only 10 base pairs away, you continue to see two dips and no overlapping. We also can map where they are on the strand, so we can see how many there are and where they are.” Leburton’s group is working with collaborators to improve DNA threading, to cut down on noise in the electrical signal and to perform experiments to verify their simulations. Grants from Oxford Nanopore Technology, the Beckman Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation supported this work.
News Article | April 17, 2017
Home > Press > Nanopores could map small changes in DNA that signal big shifts in cancer Abstract: Detecting cancer early, just as changes are beginning in DNA, could enhance diagnosis and treatment as well as further our understanding of the disease. A new study by University of Illinois researchers describes a method to detect, count and map tiny additions to DNA called methylations, which can be a warning sign of cancer, with unprecedented resolution. The method threads DNA strands through a tiny hole, called a nanopore, in an atomically thin sheet of material with an electrical current running through it. The study was published in the inaugural issue of the journal npj 2D Materials and Applications, a new journal from Nature Press. "One or a few methylations is not a big deal, but if there are many of them and they are packed close together, then it's bad," said study leader Jean-Pierre Leburton, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois. "DNA methylation is actually a starting process for cancer. So we want to detect how many of them there are and how close together they are. That can tell us at which stage the cancer is." Other attempts at using nanopores to detect methylation have been limited in resolution. Researchers begin by punching a tiny hole in a flat sheet of material only one atom or molecule thick. The pore is submerged in a salt solution and an electrical current is applied to drive the DNA molecule through the pore. Dips in the current alert researchers that a methyl group is passing through. However, when two or three are close together, the pore interprets it as one signal, Leburton said. The Illinois group tried a slightly different approach. They applied a current directly to the conductive sheet surrounding the pore. Working with Klaus Schulten, a professor of physics at Illinois, Leburton's group at Illinois' Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology used advanced computer simulations to test applying current to different flat materials, such as graphene and molybdenum disulfide, as methylated DNA was threaded through. See a video of one simulation on YouTube. "Our simulations indicate that measuring the current through the membrane instead of just the solution around it is much more precise," Leburton said. "If you have two methylations close together, even only 10 base pairs away, you continue to see two dips and no overlapping. We also can map where they are on the strand, so we can see how many there are and where they are." Leburton's group is working with collaborators to improve DNA threading, to cut down on noise in the electrical signal and to perform experiments to verify their simulations. ### Grants from Oxford Nanopore Technology, the Beckman Institute, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation supported this work. For more information, please click If you have a comment, please us. Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.
News Article | April 17, 2017
The method threads DNA strands through a tiny hole, called a nanopore, in an atomically thin sheet of material with an electrical current running through it. The study was published in the inaugural issue of the journal npj 2D Materials and Applications, a new journal from Nature Press. "One or a few methylations is not a big deal, but if there are many of them and they are packed close together, then it's bad," said study leader Jean-Pierre Leburton, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois. "DNA methylation is actually a starting process for cancer. So we want to detect how many of them there are and how close together they are. That can tell us at which stage the cancer is." Other attempts at using nanopores to detect methylation have been limited in resolution. Researchers begin by punching a tiny hole in a flat sheet of material only one atom or molecule thick. The pore is submerged in a salt solution and an electrical current is applied to drive the DNA molecule through the pore. Dips in the current alert researchers that a methyl group is passing through. However, when two or three are close together, the pore interprets it as one signal, Leburton said. The Illinois group tried a slightly different approach. They applied a current directly to the conductive sheet surrounding the pore. Working with Klaus Schulten, a professor of physics at Illinois, Leburton's group at Illinois' Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology used advanced computer simulations to test applying current to different flat materials, such as graphene and molybdenum disulfide, as methylated DNA was threaded through. "Our simulations indicate that measuring the current through the membrane instead of just the solution around it is much more precise," Leburton said. "If you have two methylations close together, even only 10 base pairs away, you continue to see two dips and no overlapping. We also can map where they are on the strand, so we can see how many there are and where they are." Leburton's group is working with collaborators to improve DNA threading, to cut down on noise in the electrical signal and to perform experiments to verify their simulations. More information: Hu Qiu et al, Detection and mapping of DNA methylation with 2D material nanopores, npj 2D Materials and Applications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41699-017-0005-7
News Article | December 14, 2016
When most living creatures get hurt, they can self-heal and recover from the injury. But, when damage occurs to inanimate objects, they don't have that same ability and typically either lose functionality or have their useful lifecycle reduced. Researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology are working to change that. For more than 15 years, Jeff Moore, a professor of chemistry, Nancy Sottos, a professor of materials science and engineering, and Scott White, a professor of aerospace engineering, have been collaborating in the Autonomous Materials Systems Group. Their work focuses on creating synthetic materials that can react to their environment, recover from damage, and even self-destruct once their usefulness has come to an end. The trio of Beckman researchers are pioneers in what is now a dynamic and growing field. Their work on self-healing polymers was first presented in the journal Nature more than a decade-and-a-half ago. Prior to that, there had been just a few papers published on the subject of autonomous polymers. In the years since, research in the field has exploded, with hundreds of papers published. Now, in a sweeping perspective article published this month in the journal Nature, the researchers, along with Beckman Postdoctoral Fellows Jason Patrick and Maxwell Robb, review the state-of-the-art autonomous polymers and lay out future directions for the field. "What we've tried to capture for the first time is a vision of polymers as multifunctional entities that can manage their well-being," Moore said. The article is an overview of how their work has evolved from the development of self-healing polymers to a concentration on "life cycle control of polymers" -- what he called "the healthy aging of materials." He described the autonomous function of materials this way: "Live long, be fit, die fast, and leave no mess behind. ... We want the materials to live as long as they can in a healthy state and, when the time comes, be able to trigger the inevitable from a functional state to recoverable materials resources." In the paper, the researchers identified five landscape-altering developments: self-protection, self-reporting, self-healing, regeneration, and controlled degradation. Much of their work revolves around microcapsules, which are small, fluid-filled spheres that can be integrated into various material systems. The capsules contain a healing agent that is released automatically when exposed to a specific environmental change, such as physical damage or excessive temperature. "You have capsules that remain stable in the material until the environment causes a stress that causes them to rupture," explained Sottos. "A lot of different external stimuli can open up the capsules. You can have a thermal trigger, a mechanical trigger, and we've worked a lot on chemical triggers. They open up, release their contents, and the science is in what comes out and reacts." By developing new chemistries and ways to integrate microcapsules over the years, the researchers have created polymers that can do everything from re-filling minor damage in paints and coatings (self-protecting), changing color when undergoing stress (self-reporting), and re-bonding cracks or restoring electrical conductivity (self-healing). The AMS Group also developed a way to efficiently fabricate vascular networks within polymers. These networks, which can include multiple channels that run throughout a material, are able to deliver healing agents multiple times, change thermal or magnetic properties, and facilitate other useful chemical interactions in a material. A major development in their self-healing work focuses on repairing large-scale damage through the process of regeneration. "Ballistic impacts, drilling holes in sheets of plastic, and these sorts of things, where a significant mass is lost ... traditional self-healing has no way of dealing with that problem at all," White said. "The materials that would be used to heal that hole would simply fall out, bleed out under gravity." So White and his collaborators came up with a two-channel healing system. When damage occurs on a large scale, a gel-like substance fills the space and builds upon itself, keeping the healing agents in place until they harden. Their most recent work is concerned with how to deal with material systems when they have reached the end of their useful life. This work involves making materials that can self-destruct when a specific environmental signal is given (triggered transience). The researchers believe that triggers such as high temperature, water, ultraviolet light, and many others may one day be used to make obsolete devices degrade quickly so that they can be reused or recycled, thus reducing electronic waste and boosting sustainability. Autonomous polymers are beginning to make their way into the commercial sector. Commercialization efforts have produced materials such as wear-resistant mobile device cases and automotive paints that can self-repair minor scratches. And more self-healing products are slowly coming to market including a microcapsule-based powder coating produced by the Champaign-based start-up company Autonomic Materials Inc. While the practical application of many of these techniques still face challenges, Moore, Sottos, White, and their colleagues continue to work toward the creation of smart materials that can function independently, self-heal, and disintegrate once they are no longer useful, offering the eventual promise of safer, more efficient, and longer-lasting products that require fewer resources and produce less waste.
News Article | December 13, 2016
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A study of older adults links consumption of a pigment found in leafy greens to the preservation of "crystallized intelligence," the ability to use the skills and knowledge one has acquired over a lifetime. The study is reported in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. Lutein (LOO-teen) is one of several plant pigments that humans acquire through the diet, primarily by eating leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, or egg yolks, said University of Illinois graduate student Marta Zamroziewicz, who led the study with Illinois psychology professor Aron Barbey. Lutein accumulates in the brain, embedding in cell membranes, where it likely plays "a neuroprotective role," she said. "Previous studies have found that a person's lutein status is linked to cognitive performance across the lifespan," Zamroziewicz said. "Research also shows that lutein accumulates in the gray matter of brain regions known to underlie the preservation of cognitive function in healthy brain aging." The study enrolled 122 healthy participants aged 65 to 75 who solved problems and answered questions on a standard test of crystallized intelligence. Researchers also collected blood samples to determine blood serum levels of lutein and imaged participants' brains using MRI to measure the volume of different brain structures. The team focused on parts of the temporal cortex, a brain region that other studies suggest plays a role in the preservation of crystallized intelligence. The researchers found that participants with higher blood serum levels of lutein tended to do better on tests of crystallized intelligence. Serum lutein levels reflect only recent dietary intakes, Zamroziewicz said, but are associated with brain concentrations of lutein in older adults, which reflect long-term dietary intake. Those with higher serum lutein levels also tended to have thicker gray matter in the parahippocampal cortex, a brain region that, like crystallized intelligence, is preserved in healthy aging, the researchers report. "Our analyses revealed that gray-matter volume of the parahippocampal cortex on the right side of the brain accounts for the relationship between lutein and crystallized intelligence," Barbey said. "This offers the first clue as to which brain regions specifically play a role in the preservation of crystallized intelligence, and how factors such as diet may contribute to that relationship." "Our findings do not demonstrate causality," Zamroziewicz said. "We did find that lutein is linked to crystallized intelligence through the parahippocampal cortex." "We can only hypothesize at this point how lutein in the diet affects brain structure," Barbey said. "It may be that it plays an anti-inflammatory role or aids in cell-to-cell signaling. But our finding adds to the evidence suggesting that particular nutrients slow age-related declines in cognition by influencing specific features of brain aging." Barbey is an affiliate of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology and the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the U. of I. The research team also included Beckman Institute postdoctoral researchers Erick Paul and Chris Zwilling; psychology professor Neal Cohen, also at Beckman; Elizabeth Johnson, of Tufts University; and Matthew Kuchan, of Abbott Nutrition. Abbott Nutrition supported this work through the Center for Nutrition, Learning and Memory at the U. of I. in Urbana-Champaign. The paper "Parahippocampal Cortex Mediates the Relationship Between Lutein and Crystallized Intelligence in Healthy, Older Adults" is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau.
News Article | February 15, 2017
David C. Munson Jr. has been named Rochester Institute of Technology’s 10th president. The RIT Board of Trustees made the decision at a special session, selecting the former dean of the University of Michigan College of Engineering from a pool of national candidates. Munson will assume RIT’s top post July 1, succeeding Bill Destler, RIT’s president since 2007. Munson will be responsible for one of the nation’s leading research and career-oriented universities featuring 18,700 students from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries, 121,000 alumni, $73 million in sponsored research, and an endowment of more than $750 million. “It is a great honor and privilege to become the next president of what I believe to be a gem in higher education,” said Munson. “I was drawn to RIT when I observed an exciting portfolio of academic programs, research with impact to solve global problems, and an ability to stay focused on the overall student experience. I was truly impressed with RIT’s strengths in the arts, as well as technology, and how they are blended. I look forward to maintaining university traditions and simultaneously building on the 2025 Strategic Plan, ‘Greatness through Difference.’ I am eager to meet members of the RIT community and work with them to reach their aspirations.” A 24-member search committee composed of students, faculty, staff, alumni, administration and trustees narrowed the pool of candidates before the final selection by the Board of Trustees. “We are proud to welcome Dr. Munson to RIT and look forward to him leading the university through its next exciting chapter,” said Christine Whitman, chair of the RIT Board of Trustees. “His extensive academic experience, respected research credentials, demonstrated leadership, engagement with students and global vision will propel RIT to new heights. We know he will build on the strong foundation established by President Destler and his predecessors whose tireless work made RIT a distinctly great university.” Whitman added: “Dr. Munson has articulated a vision that is consistent with our strategic plan. He has the skills and experience to accomplish our goals and he sees opportunities to take us even further.” Munson has 38 years of experience in higher education, which includes serving as the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering at Michigan from 2006 to 2016, where he served two five-year terms, the maximum allowed by U-M. Michigan Engineering is considered one of the top engineering schools in the world. Eight of its academic departments are ranked in the nation’s top 10. Munson earned his BS degree in electrical engineering (with distinction) from the University of Delaware in 1975. He earned an MS and MA in electrical engineering from Princeton in 1977, followed by a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1979, also from Princeton. From 1979 to 2003, Munson was with the University of Illinois, where he was the Robert C. MacClinchie Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Research Professor in the Coordinated Science Laboratory, and a faculty member in the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. In 2003, he became chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at U-M prior to becoming dean. Today, with his deanship appointment fulfilled, he serves as a professor of electrical engineering and computer science. Munson’s teaching and research interests are in the area of signal and image processing. His current research is focused on radar imaging and computer tomography. He is co-founder of InstaRecon Inc., a start-up firm to commercialize fast algorithms for image formation in computer tomography. He is affiliated with the Infinity Project, where he is coauthor of a textbook on the digital world, which has been used in hundreds of high schools nationwide to introduce students to engineering. Munson is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a past president of the IEEE Signal Processing Society, founding editor-in-chief of the IEEE Transactions on Image Processing, and co-founder of the IEEE International Conference on Image Processing. In addition to multiple teaching awards and other honors, he was presented the Society Award of the IEEE Signal Processing Society, he served as a Distinguished Lecturer of the IEEE Signal Processing Society, he received an IEEE Third Millennium Medal, and he was the Texas Instruments Distinguished Visiting Professor at Rice University. In 2016, Munson earned the Benjamin Garver Lamme Medal from the American Society of Engineering Education (highest award for an engineering administrator). It is this record of accomplishment that drew praise from current RIT President Bill Destler, who will retire June 30 after serving more than 40 years in higher education and 10 years as RIT president. He applauded the work of the search committee and the selection of the new president. “On behalf of RIT and the Greater Rochester-Finger Lakes region, I welcome Dr. Munson and his wife, Nancy, to our community,” said Destler. “The naming of a new president is an exciting time for RIT students, faculty and staff, as well as our alumni, family and friends around the world. Dr. Munson has an impressive record of accomplishments, and brings skills, expertise and experience that will greatly benefit this university, and further propel RIT as one of the great global universities.” To learn more about Munson’s credentials, including a curriculum vitae, go to: http://www.rit.edu/presidentialsearch/ To read more about the search process, go to http://www.rit.edu/news/story.php?id=59131. To read more about Munson, go to http://www.rit.edu/news/story.php?id=59171. Rochester Institute of Technology is home to leading creators, entrepreneurs, innovators and researchers. Founded in 1829, RIT enrolls about 19,000 students in more than 200 career-oriented and professional programs, making it among the largest private universities in the U.S. The university is internationally recognized and ranked for academic leadership in business, computing, engineering, imaging science, liberal arts, sustainability, and fine and applied arts. RIT also offers unparalleled support services for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. The cooperative education program is one of the oldest and largest in the nation. Global partnerships include campuses in China, Croatia, Dubai and Kosovo. For news, photos and videos, go to http://www.rit.edu/news.
News Article | March 31, 2016
The human brain needs a large amount of energy to function properly, and researchers at the University of Illinois have reported in a new study that the health of brain metabolism in young adults may predict fluid intelligence – the capacity to solve unusual logic-based problems in novel situations. Study author Ryan Larsen, a research scientist at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, told Bioscience Technology that using magnetic resonance spectroscopy measurements are one of several ways to better understand the complicated relationships between energy production and intelligence. The findings were published online in Cerebral Cortex. For the study, the team, led by Larsen, University of Illinois Ph.D. candidate Aki Nikolaidis, and Beckman Institute director Arthur Kramer, analyzed data from 71 young adults. The researchers measured the amount of N—acetyl aspartate (NAA), a biochemical marker of neural energy production and efficiency, in the brains using MR spectroscopy. The subjects in the study were given computerized standard tests of fluid intelligence that required problem solving, reasoning and spatial visualization, Larsen said. The scientists then looked at the relationship between NAA concentrations in different areas of the brain and the results of the fluid intelligence scores. According to Larsen, the connection between NAA concentration and multiple facets of intelligence has been shown previously, but most of those studies did not use spectroscopic imaging and therefore were limited in the spatial coverage of the brain. “Our approach used spectroscopic imaging techniques to cover several areas of the brain known to be important for intelligence,” Larsen said. The current study also wanted to address other inconsistencies in previous research that may not have accounted for all relevant factors, such as brain size, in their analysis of cognition. This study was able to image the brain’s capacity to produce energy and showed concentrations of NAA in the brain in a more detailed way than previous studies. The team found that distribution of NAA in the frontal and parietal lobes, an area of the brain associated with motor abilities, was specifically linked to fluid intelligence, independent of brain size. Interestingly, it was not linked to other closely related cognitive abilities. Brain metabolism and health, along with brain size, are significant predictors of fluid intelligence, the researchers concluded. According to the researchers, the findings suggest “that the left motor regions play a key role in visualization and planning” that is needed for spatial cognition and reasoning. So while overall, brain size is not changeable, Larsen said he is interested in understanding the potential relationships between NAA levels and health interventions, such as aerobic fitness and nutrition, which are things that can be improved and changed. Larsen said that while literature indicates that NAA is relatively stable over much of the adult lifespan, making it a useful marker of brain health, more research needs to be conducted as to whether or not changes in NAA may occur with lifestyle changes. Establish your company as a technology leader! For more than 50 years, the R&D 100 Awards have showcased new products of technological significance. You can join this exclusive community! Learn more.
News Article | December 12, 2016
SANTA CLARA, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) today announced that Dr. Rohit Bhargava has received an Agilent Thought Leader Award in recognition of his pioneering work in the development of infrared spectroscopic imaging, and its application to life sciences research. Dr. Bhargava is a founder professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois Cancer Center, with laboratories also at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. He is also the founder and director of the Cancer Community at Illinois program, which will be renamed the Illinois Cancer Center in early 2017. His work in the advancement of novel chemical-imaging technologies includes developing infrared spectroscopy modalities and demonstrating how they apply to cancer detection, diagnosis and prognosis. The Agilent Thought Leader Award, which includes funding and technology from Agilent, will enable Dr. Bhargava to develop new applications and software to facilitate infrared analysis of histological samples, in particular for cancer detection and diagnosis. “We are grateful to Agilent for this support,” Dr. Bhargava said. “This relationship will allow us to work together to further establish the field of digital molecular pathology using infrared imaging.” “We are delighted to support Dr. Bhargava’s research toward migrating infrared spectroscopic imaging from the lab to the clinic,” said Philip Binns, vice president and general manager of Agilent’s Spectroscopy and Vacuum Solutions Division. “Dr. Bhargava is well-positioned to lead the development of new biomedical applications of Agilent’s recently announced high-speed Laser Direct Infrared Imaging (LDIR) technology.” The Agilent Thought Leader Award Program promotes fundamental scientific advances by contributing financial support, products and expertise to the research of influential thought leaders in the life sciences, diagnostics and applied chemical markets. Information about previous award recipients is available on the Agilent Thought Leader Program webpage. Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A), a global leader in life sciences, diagnostics and applied chemical markets, is the premier laboratory partner for a better world. Agilent works with customers in more than 100 countries, providing instruments, software, services and consumables for the entire laboratory workflow. Agilent generated revenue of $4.20 billion in fiscal 2016. The company employs about 12,500 people worldwide. Information about Agilent is available at www.agilent.com.
News Article | February 8, 2017
Imaging very small materials takes not only great skill on the part of the microscopist, but also great instruments and techniques. For a refined microscopic look at biological materials, the challenges include getting an image that is free from "noise," the interference that can be caused by a number of items, including the area surrounding an item. Labels, dyes, or stains that are added in order to see the item more clearly can also present issues as they can affect the item that is to be scanned in unexpected ways--damaging or even killing biological materials. Looking at microtubules is an interesting case in point. The hollow tubular structure serve as a backbone of cells and helps carry materials in the cell. Malfunctioning microtubules have been associated with various illnesses including cancer and Alzheimer's disease. Understanding how microtubules function could be an important step in understanding disease progression. However, studying a single dynamic microtubule, which measures 24 nanometers in diameter, and up to 10 microns in length, is not an easy task. Researchers in the Quantitative Light Imaging Laboratory at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois have been able to use label-free spatial light interference microscopy (SLIM) and computer processing in order to image the microtubules in an assay. The study, "Label-Free Imaging of Single Microtubule Dynamics Using Spatial Light Interference Microscopy," was recently published in ACS Nano. Being able to see the microtubules without the use of dyes or stains is a major contribution. "The label-free aspect is the main breakthrough in my opinion," said Gabriel Popescu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and member of Beckman's Bioimaging Science and Technology Group. Popescu is the senior author on the study. "There have been other efforts towards making this label-free, it's a very important class of challenges. Current techniques yield smaller fields of view, and the image contrast is not as good." By measuring how much light is delayed through the specimen at all points in the field of view, the researchers are able to find the optical path length map for the sample. This optical path length--or phase information--relates to a sample's refractive index and thickness, enabling detailed studies on cell structure and dynamics. "The instrument provides a blurring of the image that's much bigger than the size of the microtubule," explains Popescu. "So it's as if it's smearing out the values of that phase delay. But since we our system very well, we're able to back it up and come up with an effective index value for the microtubule, which is correct." The numerical processing used provides the sensitivity not only to see the tubules but also is used to measure light scattering. "A key physics point is that once you know both the intensity and phase of the light, then you can numerically process that information and virtually propagate the light anywhere in space, including at a plane far away from the microtubule, in order to study the scattered light," said Popescu. Previous efforts at imaging the miniscule structures have used immunofluorescence, injecting antibodies into fluorescent dyes in order to clearly see the cell as it functions. However, the fluorescence can affect cell function and the length of time that the cell can be imaged. "We imaged them for a very long period of time, not two or three minutes, but more like eight hours," said Mikhail Kandel, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering and lead author on the study. "People are interested in the metabolic rates of the proteins that walk on the microtubules and we showed how you can watch the deceleration of these proteins, which is equivalent to monitoring the consumption of their fuel source." "You could potentially figure out the consumption of ATP and motility characteristics of the proteins, which are very interesting." The Beckman researchers worked with Paul Selvin, professor of physics. "This just came out of a discussion with Paul Selvin's group, who have been studying microtubules for a long time using traditional methods of fluorescence," said Popescu. "Mikhail got in contact with his students and they said, let's give it a try. Seeing them with other types of fluorescence is a major improvement because you can basically image them forever." "My group is interested in seeing how proteins move on and around microtubules," said Selvin, one of the study's authors. "This new technique not only enables us to get an idea of how the cells will function over time, but also raises the possibility of in vivo imaging of cells." SLIM is a commercially manufactured product that can fit on to upgrade about any microscope, say the researchers. This allows biologists to use other microscopy techniques, including fluorescence, in addition to SLIM. The SLIM product is available through Phi Optics, a company that Popescu founded. "One of the biggest challenges in interferometry is sensitivity, which is affected drastically by environmental noise, for example, vibrations or air fluctuations. But with the particular stable geometry used in SLIM, we can actually achieve incredible sensitivity in fractions of nanometers," said Popescu. The researchers plan to push the boundaries on imaging cells, hopefully imaging microtubules in live cells. "If we manage to push this in a living cell, that would be a real breakthrough," said Popescu. "We anticipate great challenges because of the background that exists in the cells. Encouraged by these results, we are thinking that one day we might be able to have such a sensitivity to see phase shifts from single molecules. "We're not there yet, but one can dream."