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Vol.12, Nos.1-2   February 2002

Discover Magazine Honors PNNL Inventor

New Microscope Offers First Views of Living Cells in Action

In July 2001, researcher Robert Wind (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, PNNL) accepted the top innovation award in Discover Magazine’s health category. The award was for inventing a combined optical and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) microscope that provides a more accurate and complete picture of cellular activity. [Wind, R. A., K. R. Minard, G. R. Holtom, P. D. Majors, and E. J. Ackerman. 2000. "An Integrated Confocal and Magnetic Resonance Microscope for Cellular Research." J. Magn. Reson., 147, 371-377]

The combined microscope takes advantage of confocal optical microscopy's extremely high resolution imaging and MRI’s ability to capture physical and chemical cell information such as water properties and the presence of certain chemical compounds. “This unique combination provides scientists with more information about cells than either technique offers individually,” said Wind.

Current approaches for studying cellular activities include breaking up cells, which usually results in the loss of cell integrity and thus limits what can be learned from them. The new microscope enables scientists to monitor the response of living cells to such environmental stresses as heat, chemicals, and radiation. This technique provides a necessary link between cellular response and molecular information on proteins and other biochemicals involved in cellular events.

The technology will greatly enhance understanding of the connection between environmental exposures and human health problems. Studies of cellular changes in real time also will help explain how cells succeed or fail in fighting off diseases and will enable practitioners to track healthy cells that become cancerous or diseased cells undergoing treatment.

The new microscope will allow researchers to obtain more accurate and early physiological signatures of cell death by providing data pertaining to such changes as cell volume, water mobility, and metabolism. In cancer patients, these changes are telltale signs that diseased cells have died as a result of chemotherapy. This would be a great improvement over current clinical practice because doctors currently are unable to gauge chemotherapys effectiveness until they see tumors regress.

The work is part of PNNL’s Cellular Observatory [http://www.pnnl.gov/news/release.aspx?id=602], whose goal is to visualize the inner workings of living cells by understanding the mechanisms that control a cells response to its environment. (www.biomolecular.org). This knowledge will help scientists predict how cells respond to injury and what goes wrong in diseases such as cancer.

PNNL, the Advanced Medical Technology Program in the DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research, and the NIH National Cancer Institute supported the initial research. A multidisciplinary team of scientists working at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), a DOE user facility at PNNL, supported the development of the combined microscope for the last 3years. EMSL provides advanced resources to scientists engaged in fundamental research on the physical, chemical, and biological processes that underpin critical scientific issues.

Robert.Wind@pnl.gov; PNNL: LAUR-01-4757

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Human Genome Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Human Genome News (v12n1-2).

Human Genome Project 1990–2003

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international 13-year effort, 1990 to 2003. Primary goals were to discover the complete set of human genes and make them accessible for further biological study, and determine the complete sequence of DNA bases in the human genome. See Timeline for more HGP history.

Human Genome News

Published from 1989 until 2002, this newsletter facilitated HGP communication, helped prevent duplication of research effort, and informed persons interested in genome research.