Microscope magnifies hopes of cancer cure
A LASER microscope costing £500,000 to develop is helping Scottish scientists in the search for new treatments for cancer and other serious diseases.
The technology, which was developed at the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, promises to speed up the creation of new drugs.
Dr Gail McConnell, head of the Centre for Biophotonics at Strathclyde, said the new microscope – the only one of its kind in Scotland – was helping biologists "sharpen their eyes" to see tissues within cells they would not otherwise be able to see.
By combining laser and microscope technology, they would be able to avoid some of the pitfalls involved in biological research.
"Normally what happens is the biologist takes some tissue and will use fluorescent dye to label parts of interest," she said.
"We shine laser light on it and when the light interacts with the dye we can use that to build 3D images of whatever part of the cells or tissue we are interested in.
"Part of the problem is that these dyes can change the function of the cells or tissue. They are expensive. They don't always work and it can take a long time to prepare the sample with these dyes."
The new microscope will reduce the need to use dyes as the researchers can tune the lasers to target the parts of the tissue they want to look at – such as parts of cancer cells which have been exposed to anti-cancer drugs – to see what effects the treatment has had.
The desired parts of the tissue then vibrate, allowing the scientists to create a 3D image of what is happening.
The microscope technology being used at the institute was welcomed by cancer campaigners.
Nell Barrie, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is exciting technology that could in the future give new insights into how cancer drugs interact with cells.
"Understanding how drugs affect cells at the molecular level is an important area of cancer research, and new techniques to boost our knowledge are always welcome."
Next year will bring the official opening of a new 36 million facility at the institute.
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