Taking a closer look

Douglas M. Kafury

New microscope allows researchers to examine cancer cells

Researchers are hoping to find new information about biological tissue with the help of some new technology.

The Confocal Raman microscope, purchased at the beginning of the semester, can provide spatially resolved, 3-D structural information about a broad range of samples, said Arne Gericke, assistant professor of chemistry.

Gericke said he will look mainly at biological tissue with the instrument as well as individual cells.

One goal Gericke and his research group hope to achieve with the microscope is to trap vesicles, which are model systems for cells, with the laser beam of the microscope. By doing this, they will be able to view the same vesicle over and over, and that will allow them to get better results.

Gericke said he recently started a project with a group from Case Western Reserve University where they look at cancerous tissue and the effects of photo dynamic therapy, which targets and destroys cancer cells selectively, on that tissue.

Along with the infrared microscope his research group has, they will use the Raman microscope to see how the tissue is responding, Gericke said.

“What our goal is with both instruments is to study human tissue in pathological states,” Gericke said.

Although the microscope has been set up since the middle of February, Gericke said they are still in the testing stage with the instrument.

“It’s not something that you put the instrument in, and then you turn the key and you get going with it,” Gericke said. “You have to work out the conditions for your experiment just right.”

Gericke said it is a balancing act to get the conditions just right for the machine.

“There are two variables,” Gericke said. “On one hand, you want to determine the conditions that are best for the instrument so that you get the best signal-to-noise ratio and the best results from the instrumental point of view. But on the other hand, you need to have the requirement of your sample because the sample might not support certain experimental conditions.”

The Raman microscope has a number of advantages over the microscopes the university already has. It allows researchers to look at biological tissue without having to stain the material. This is an advantage because staining the tissue is, in certain cases, very time consuming, Gericke said. Also, the dye can sometimes interfere when trying to determine the stage of cancer afflicting the tissue.

Another major advantage of the Raman microscope is the ability to obtain data from the interior of a sample, according to the Kaiser Optical Systems, Inc. Web site.

“It allows us to go in at very specific depths of our sample,” Gericke said.

The microscope also provides higher resolution images than other microscopes the university already has, said Ke Zhang, chemistry graduate research assistant.

The microscope costs more than $200,000 and was funded through congressionally allocated funds for cell systems research and the Wright Capital Project Fund award, which provides the chemistry department with money for new technologies.

As part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates program during the summer, one undergraduate student will work with the instrument in Gericke’s lab.

Contact science reporter Douglas M. Kafury at [email protected].