Public Release: 

Keck Foundation awards $750,000 grant to Northeastern University to fund 3D fusion microscope

Northeastern University

BOSTON, Mass. -- Northeastern University in Boston has been awarded a grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles, California to fund the building of a 3D Fusion Microscope (3DFM). Northeastern Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Chuck DiMarzio, Matthews Distinguished Professor of Biology Carol Warner, and Professor of Biology Donald O'Malley led the team that won the $750,000 2-year grant.

The Keck 3D Fusion Microscope will allow three-dimensional imaging of biological specimens on a single platform using five different cutting-edge imaging technologies. These include novel imaging technologies being developed at Northeastern under the auspices of CenSSIS, the Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems, a National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center (ERC) - one of 19 in the country [see www.censsis.neu.edu]. Two initial biological applications of the Keck 3D Fusion Microscope will focus on the key developmental processes that occur in vertebrate animals.

The long-range goal is to develop a new paradigm of three-dimensional biological imaging by borrowing from the engineering community and CenSSIS the techniques of inverse scattering, image processing, three-dimensional imaging and visualization. These imaging data sets will be combined with new advances in genetics and DNA sequencing to give a more complete picture of physiological changes that occur during the process of growth and differentiation. This instrument will support a potentially wide-range of future applications. For example, the Keck 3DFM may prove helpful in efforts to distinguish normal from cancerous cells.

Dr. Carol Warner's group will be examining embryo viability, an issue of critical importance for couples undergoing treatment for infertility. Since the first baby conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF) was born in 1978, about one million IVF babies have been born. However, this represents only about a 25% success rate. A major obstacle to increasing the success rate of IVF is the inability to recognize healthy embryos.

The Keck 3DFM holds the promise of being able to distinguish healthy from unhealthy embryos by imaging. Moreover, multiple births, which often result in birth defects such as cerebral palsy, could potentially be avoided. Presently, to increase the chance of a successful pregnancy after IVF, three embryos are transferred back to the mother. If embryo health could be assessed by imaging,, one embryo could be transferred eliminating the devastating consequences of multiple births and increasing the chances of pregnancy success.

The second biological application proposed to the Keck Foundation is by Dr. Donald O'Malley's group. His group will be examining the biology of neural stem cells in zebrafish embryos to investigate developmental processes relevant to the treatment of spinal cord injuries. "The combination of instruments on the Keck Microscope will allow me to look into the developing brain of a zebrafish embryo and directly observe the behavior of neural stem cells as they begin to generate different components of the nervous system," says O'Malley. "My project specifically focuses on those nerve cells that establish connections between the brain and the spinal cord."

The affiliation of this instrument with CenSSIS provides a unique environment for biological research because CenSSIS is developing a unified, multidisciplinary approach combining expertise in wave physics, sensor engineering, image processing, and inverse scattering with rigorous performance testing. The goal is to create new sensing system prototypes, with applications not only looking into biological specimens, but also looking underground, undersea and inside the body. Expertise from these seemingly different fields will be brought to bear on images from the microscope, and these fields will benefit from the knowledge gained with the microscope. As an example, one of the key technologies of the microscope is derived from the field of remote sensing.

This project will also benefit and contribute to research at other institutions. CenSSIS is a multi-university endeavor including Core Academic Partners Boston University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez, and important strategic affiliates in Brigham and Women's Hospital, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

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The W. M. Keck Foundation is one of the nation's largest philanthropic organizations. Established in 1954 by the late William Myron Keck, founder of The Superior Oil Company, the Foundation's grant-making is focused primarily on the areas of breakthrough medical research, science, and engineering. The Foundation also maintains a program for liberal arts colleges and a Southern California Grant Program that provides support in the areas of civic and community services, health care and hospitals, pre-collegiate education, and the arts.

Northeastern University, a private research institution located in Boston, Massachusetts, is a world leader in practice-oriented education. Building on its flagship cooperative education program, Northeastern links classroom learning with workplace experience and integrates professional preparation with study in the liberal arts and sciences. For more information, please visit www.northeastern.edu

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