May 22 - A new form of microscope that can produce results in seconds rather than hours - dramatically speeding up the process of drug development - is being developed by researchers at a Scottish university. Jim Drury has the story.
STORY: Dr Brad Amos adjusts his Mesolens - a unique microscope. It's capable of creating 3D images within cells and tissues at the same time as showing the entire organism. The only device of its kind in the world, it offers doctors the possibility of vastly improved diagnostic examinations. Here Amos, a visiting scientist at the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, examines a mouse embryo in extraordinary detail. SOUNDBITE (English) DR BRAD AMOS, A VISITING SCIENTIST AT THE STRATHCLYDE INSTITUTE OF PHARMACY AND BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES, SAYING: "What we have here is a combination of the confocal principle, which is now very well established and widely used, with a lens design that is totally novel and which is really bridging a gap between microscopy and macrophotography......It can image detail at the level of half a micron - that is one two-thousandth of a millimetre." Confocal microscopes were pioneered in the mid-1980s, allowing 3D models of organisms to be built and images produced in extremely fine detail. But they have limitations. Such lenses need a shallow depth of field, which greatly limits the size of images. Existing microscopes function with lenses up to three centimetres long, but the Mesolens has a length of 50 centimetres, making it possible to produce images like this, showing rat brain tissue grown in a lab. Such a large lens means proportionally large mirrors are required to scan lightbeams. Working alongside Strathclyde Chair of Biophotonics, Professor Gail McConnell, Amos incorporated mirrors used in military and industrial hardware. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR GAIL MCCONNELL, CHAIR OF BIOPHOTONICS AT THE STRATHCLYDE INSTITUTE OF PHARMACY AND BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES, SAYING: "They're very lightweight mirrors, they're manufactured using beryllium and then they're back-thinned with this very elegant kind of birdswing structure to try and reduce overall mass where it's not actually required but with very good optical surfaces to reflect that very large laser beam, to scan within the specimen, and so for us having low jitter on those mirrors, in other words good reproducablility on each subsequent scan was absolutely essential." Able to focus both inside an individual cell and on the full organism the Mesolens will be invaluable for doctors, according to McConnell. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR GAIL MCCONNELL, CHAIR OF BIOPHOTONICS AT THE STRATHCLYDE INSTITUTE OF PHARMACY AND BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES, SAYING: "Rather than being able to see a very small volume within a large object, it's being able to see that small volume in very fine detail but also then look at the whole organism with the same fine detail. So you've got the fine detail across the whole organism, not just within a very small volume. Now that starts to inform about diseases and understanding how diseases progress." The microscope can produce results in seconds rather than hours, potentially speeding up the process of drug development. The scientists hope the Mesolens can soon be mass-produced as a new tool for use in cancer research, just one field they say, where the device can provide a clearer picture. Jim Drury, Reuters