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World-class molecular imaging at Oxford



Nikon Oxford Molecular Imaging Centre (Nomic) at the Chemical Research Laboratory (CRL) will give biomedical and nanotechnology researchers access to the very latest microscopes and imaging systems

Thanks to a partnership with Nikon Instruments, the University of Oxford has created a world-class advanced imaging facility.

The Nikon Oxford Molecular Imaging Centre (Nomic) was opened in a ceremony at the University's Chemical Research Laboratory (CRL), and will give biomedical and nanotechnology researchers access to the very latest microscopes and imaging systems.

Unlike conventional imaging systems, where researchers must mix and match their studies to achieve results, the new high-tech suite allows scientists to view events at a sub-microscopic level in real-time in a single integrated network.

Hagen Bayley, professor of chemical biology, said: "The opening of the new suite is a notable event.

"It allows researchers to 'see' single molecules, measure their properties and track their movement".

Hideaki Okamoto, general manager, design department, Nikon Instruments went on to explain: "It is our wish that University of Oxford and Nikon cooperate with mutual benefit so that scientists can make new discoveries, and enhance the already excellent reputation of the University of Oxford".

The University's Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Bio-nanotechnology will particularly benefit from the new technology.

Researchers are investigating naturally occurring biomolecular nanosystems, from the level of single molecules up to molecular machines - the latter are so small they cannot be seen with the naked eye.

The new equipment should aid research into the production of artificial electronic and optical devices for medical research, drug design and information technology.

Professor Bayley is using the system to analyse a hemolysin, a bacterial toxin.

By using genetic engineering and targeted chemical modification, both of which are greatly facilitated by the equipment in the suite, he is able to design customised functions so the toxin is turned to good use.

These new biomolecules are finding applications in drug delivery, where they are used to develop medications that move through the body to the precise areas where they are needed most.

Jason Davis and his group are utilising Nomic in the study of biological electron transfer at the molecular level.

The Davis group is also pioneering, with Professor Paul Beer, the use of confocal technology for three-dimensional ion mapping within live cells.

CRL member Mark Wallace is using the imaging suite to look directly at fluorescently-tagged single molecules to find detailed information.

Wallace said, "If we were interested in the heights of people in a crowd rather than the properties of molecules, the bulk behaviour would yield only the average height.

"However, if it were possible to look at the crowd, person by person, studying the distribution of heights, a more meaningful insight could be made.

"The complexity of biological molecules, in both their underlying dynamic structure and their interactions, makes this single-molecule approach particularly valuable".

After the opening ceremony there were thought-provoking presentations from some of the world's most highly-respected academic opinion leaders.

Amongst these were Professor Sunney Xie of Harvard University, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, who presented 'Holding Biology up to the Light: New Advances in Optical Imaging of Living Organisms', and Brad Amos, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Division of Structural Studies whose talk on 'Challenges and Opportunities in Biomicroscopy' was also well received.

Nomic is Nikon's fourth global imaging centre providing researchers at academic institutions with access to the most advanced technology and optimum conditions for their ground-breaking scientific research.

The three other Nikon centres of excellence are based at University of Heidelberg in Germany, Harvard Medical School in North America, and recently Hokkaido University in Japan.

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