Enhanced Microsopes Enable Cancer Researchers to Pursue New Types of Studies

The development of high tech, powerful microscopes opens up exciting new avenues to study cancer cells. Being able to visualize the way cancer cells grow and change over time has led to numerous discoveries that aid in the fight against cancer. The only problem is these advanced microscopes can be too expensive for researchers to afford for their labs.

At the University of Wisconsin, Jon Audhya, PhD, wanted to create a solution for this problem. In 2015, in collaboration with the School of Medicine and Public Health, Audhya launched the UW Optical Imaging Core, a facility that has microscopes that are available for researchers across campus to use.

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“We purposefully designed the facility in a way that can be utilized by anyone,” Audhya said. “We have over 170 individual users from numerous laboratories, which is incredible since we just started around three years ago.”

Of course, the UW Optical Imaging Core also needs funds to be able to buy, upgrade, and maintain their microscopes. That’s where philanthropic funding like that of Garding Against Cancer can really help. Garding Against Cancer recently provided funds to the Core that allowed them to upgrade the detectors on one of the microscopes to be much more sensitive. The upgrades mean that you need to shine less light onto cells to acquire images, which allows for completely new types of studies to be performed.

UW Carbone Cancer Center member and Optical Imaging Core user Bill Sugden, PhD, explained how the upgrade helps cancer researchers like himself.


“When you expose cells to light on a microscope, the longer and more intense the source of light, the more rapidly the cells die. Having a more sensitive detector means that we will expose our cells to less light, so we can afford to go for longer times without killing our cells,” Sugden said.


Image before the detector was upgraded Image After Upgrade
Image Before Upgrade Image After Upgrade

Sugden uses the upgraded microscope to study how a virus called the Epstein-Barr virus, or EBV, can cause cancer.

“EBV infects most people in the world, and in most of us, it causes no disease. But in about 200,000 people each year, it causes different kinds of cancer,” Sugden said. “What we want to do is understand the contributions this virus makes to cause those cancers.”

Sugden and his colleagues have already shown that tumor cells infected with EBV survive better than tumor cells that are not infected, and that EBV is helping the tumor cells to both live and grow.

They are currently using the microscope to study how the virus copies itself and goes on to infect other cells. They hope to find a way to stop this process, which would stop the virus from spreading to other people and potentially causing cancer in them.

The upgraded detectors allow them to perform their experiments over longer periods of time, which helps them better understand how the virus creates more copies of itself.

“The more sensitive detectors allow us to do experiments that we just could not do before,” Sugden said.


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Date Published: 04/27/2018

News tag(s):  gardingcancerAdvancescancer research

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