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September 13, 2012

Advanced imaging and microscopy core facility celebrates first anniversary

Sean M. Wilson, Ph.D., and Steven M. Yellon, Ph.D., co-directors of the advanced imaging and microscopy core facility at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, are celebrating the facility’s first anniversary this year, highlighting its accomplishments.

According to Dr. Wilson, the first year has exceeded expectations in terms of the number of people trained and the number of grants and publications it has helped support.

“The microscopy resources that we have in the advanced imaging and microscopy facility at Loma Linda University are very unique,” said Dr. Wilson. “The facility serves as a research and educational resource for the Inland Empire and beyond.”

Dr. Yellon noted that the value of the core facility is indicated by the fact that more than 120 individuals—including LLU faculty, fellows, and medical and graduate students—trained at the facility during its initial year. They were joined by visiting faculty from other institutions including the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial Veteran’s Administration Medical Center; the University of California, Riverside; Western University Health Science Center; California Baptist University; and other educational centers who took advantage of the opportunity to use the high-quality, specialized equipment the facility offers.

In addition, student researchers from a number of LLU programs—such as the Macpherson Summer Research Scholarship, Apprenticeship Bridge to College, Undergraduate Training Program and Pulmonary and Critical Care Fellowship—gained invaluable firsthand experience at the facility.

Researchers logged a remarkable 2,052 hours of use on the microscopes and image analysis workstations in the facility’s first year—the equivalent of 40 hours per week for 51.3 weeks.

The use of specialized microscopes for research is one of the cornerstone techniques of the basic sciences, used to understand the form and function of cells, tissues and organs. It’s also one of the fastest growing sectors in medical research, and one the federal government has proven eager to support.

In fact, the facility was initially funded by a generous grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) with additional support from H. Roger Hadley, M.D., dean of the Loma Linda University School of Medicine. The combined funds were $1.5 million.

“It’s important to recognize that although the facility came into being through the NSF grant, it took the commitment of the dean,” Dr. Yellon said. “The NSF recognized the need and it was Dr. Hadley’s act in stepping up to help meet the need that brought this to fruition.”

The facility opened in 2011 amid high praise from scientists who asserted that it would elevate the school to the ranks of an elite group of academic science institutions by bringing sophisticated high-tech research equipment—notably a Zeiss LSM 710 NLO laser-scanning, multi-photon, confocal microscope—to the campus.

Dr. Wilson said that while there are other excellent microscopy centers in Southern California, the closest facility with comparable instrumentation is the City of Hope in Duarte.

“Our facility is expected to have a continued and enduring scientific impact,” he said, noting its value in helping scientists understand how the body works, and how disease impacts its function.

“These efforts are expected to help us better understand how the brain and nervous system work as well as offering useful insights into cellular and organ development, aging, and disruption and disease processes,” Dr. Wilson said.

The overwhelming popularity of the facility confronts Drs. Wilson and Yellon with a problem: Demand is already outstripping resources.

“Large increases in demand have led us to realize that the facility needs to expand to meet the needs of researchers,” Dr. Wilson said. “We routinely work with microscope vendors such as Zeiss, Leica and Nikon to evaluate new and emerging microscope technologies for future acquisitions for the facility so we can continue to provide cutting-edge resources for the research community.”

Dr. Yellon attributed the success of the center to its synergistic origins.

“The center was the coalescing of many common interests among the faculty in basic sciences and led to collaborative research projects and program project grants,” he said.

The core facility was conceived in the mind of Lawrence D. Longo, M.D., former director of the Center for Perinatal Biology.

Looking back, the staff of the facility said the first year laid a solid foundation for a successful future.

“The first year definitely lived up to its billing,” Dr. Yellon said. “Based upon user information, about half of the extramural support grants on campus use the center, plus the first grant with preliminary studies conducted in the initial year was recently funded. The facility appears to be meeting the needs of our LLU community. That’s what a core facility is supposed to do in fulfillment of our vision to support the mission of the university.”

This story was originally published in the Aug. 31 edition of Today.

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