Newshub - NUS' News Portal

06 December 2010

NUS Launches State-Of-The-Art Centre for BioImaging Sciences

New $24 million centre aims to propel cutting-edge research in life sciences and medicine

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The National University of Singapore (NUS) has unveiled its state-of-the-art Centre for BioImaging Sciences (CBIS). Featuring the first high-powered cryo transmission electron microscope for life science research to be installed in Singapore and the third in Asia, the Centre will pioneer leading-edge development and application of novel imaging techniques and computational methods, to solve the most significant problems in life sciences, medicine, environment and energy.

The $24-million Centre for BioImaging Sciences was officially launched today by Mr Lim Chuan Poh, Chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research. Helmed by Professor Paul Matsudaira, Head of the NUS Department of Biological Sciences, CBIS will bring together biologists, chemists, computer scientists, and engineers from the NUS Faculties of Science and Engineering, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School and Mechanobiology Institute, Singapore, to conduct highly interdisciplinary research in critical areas such as infectious diseases, plant biology and neurodegenerative diseases. Two of the founding faculty are National Research Foundation (NRF) Fellows.

NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan said, “Over the past decade, NUS has developed a range of world-class imaging resources to facilitate cutting-edge research at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, Faculty of Engineering and the MechanoBiology Institute. The Centre for BioImaging Sciences will complement this effort by bringing unique top-of-the-line technologies, in particular cryoelectron microscopy, to catalyse research breakthroughs in life sciences and other disciplines. The expertise of the Centre will be a valuable resource not only for NUS, but also for the Singapore research community.”

Professor Paul Matsudaira, Director of CBIS, said, “The Centre for BioImaging Sciences has world-class optical and electron microscopes and facilities, outstanding high-end computing resources, and an interdisciplinary group of researchers. I am excited by what we have assembled and the opportunities for important discoveries.”

State-of-the-art Research Facilities

The flagship instrument of the Cryoelectron Microscopy Facility at the Centre for BioImaging Sciences, the FEI Titan Krios cryo transmission electron microscope is specially designed for life science research and provides the capability to perform imaging under cryogenic or liquid nitrogen conditions. This is especially important as it allows researchers to study biological samples in their natural hydrated state, compared to other sample preparation techniques like staining and embedding that could distort the biological properties of the samples and lead to the drawing of incorrect observations and conclusions.

In addition, the Titan Krios provides automated procedures for acquiring and processing images, critical for studies on the mechanism of infection by the Dengue virus, the structure of the Trypanosome parasite, and the structure of protein machines in a cell that may require as many as one million images and that probably could not be performed if done manually. It also enables biological samples sensitive to electron beam damage to be studied, and enhances image quality by nearly twice or a factor of 1.7.

The Titan Krios was purchased with funds from the Lee Hiok Kwee Fund, which was set up in 2002 to support research in environmental biology; molecular, cell and developmental biology; biotechnology; and biophysical sciences.

Highlights of Research at CBIS

CBIS researchers will be embarking on critical areas of investigation. Assistant Professor and NRF Fellow Cynthia He is using cryoelectron microscopy to study the major infectious disease parasite, the trypanosome, which caused a deadly epidemic of sleeping sickness in Africa in 2008, and is also responsible for causing the infectious Chagas disease, endemic in South America.

Assistant Professor and NRF Fellow Lok Sheemei is harnessing cryoelectron microscopy to identify how antibodies can be used to block the formation of Dengue virus, crucial in developing therapies to combat the virus.

In the area of neurodegenerative diseases, Associate Professor Christoph Winkler is applying insights into the development of the nervous system in fish to the study of how the nervous system degenerates in neural diseases such as spinal muscular atrophy.

Another research team led by Assistant Professor Xu Jian is studying the role of stem cells and plant hormones in the growth of rice plants with powerful optical microscopes. His research is critical to efforts in improving rice supplies which will depend on improving rice yields in a time of climate change.