Academics and Research

DU adds powerful new tool in the quest for knowledge

It takes the next big thing to study the next tiny thing.

This academic year, DU brings a powerful new laser-powered microscope to the table, offering researchers glimpses inside cells and a chance to see how living things work on a molecular level.

Biology Associate Professor Joe Angleson worked with colleagues and the provost’s office over nine months to select and fund the purchase of the nearly $500,000 Olympus laser-scanning confocal microscope. It’s expected to help scientists delve into the mysteries of bioscience, chasing diseases such as diabetes and neuromuscular malfunctions.

“This microscope is an investment in our faculty and students and their ability to carry on much needed research,” says Provost Gregg Kvistad.

The instrument — kept in its own locked room — arrived earlier this year. After months of setup and training, the microscope is now in use. Angleson says having such a valuable tool helps attract top-level graduate students and lure leading researchers to campus.

“It’s a term that gets overused, but this really is state of the art,” Angleson says. “It allows us to see how a molecule behaves inside a cell.”

The microscope works using lasers to focus light on the subject; receptors pick up the resulting image and deliver it to computer screens. Using it, scientists can see inside a cell and focus on specific sections while eliminating the visual “clutter” for a clear view. Adding a new dimension to micro-examination, the lasers can also manipulate and stimulate cells, affording researchers the ability to see how living cells react to stimuli.

The new tool is so versatile it has multiple applications. Assistant Professor Scott Barbee is studying synaptic reactions inside muscles, probing deep inside the cells of fruit flies.

The images produced can be from not only inanimate objects but also from living tissue, allowing researchers to see inside a cell as it lives and reacts in real time to input, such as chemicals that may one day have medical uses.

For biology Assistant Professor Nancy Lorenzon, having access to the microscope played a role in her decision to come to work at DU last fall. She is studying calcium channels in muscle and neurons, looking at how mutations affect function and cause neuromuscular diseases. She needs the powerful tool to continue her research.

“The confocal microscope is very important to my research,” she says. “Until the scope arrived, I was traveling back and forth between DU and a collaborator’s lab at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center at least one day per week to do my imaging.”

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