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Remote controlled microscopes boost research capacity in Midlands

A new collaborative network that facilitates remote training and access to advanced microscopy will expand and strengthen research capability and capacity in the region.

Midlands Open Bioimaging (MOB), a Midlands Innovation initiative, is supported by a £1 million grant from Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), which is part of UKRI.

The project will upgrade existing state-of-the-art microscopy equipment and implement new solutions to help create a more connected research infrastructure within the Midlands and improve remote access to advanced imaging.

Research facilities at the universities of Birmingham, LeicesterNottingham and Warwick will develop and test an innovative pilot pipeline for automated cell handling and remote controlled, fully automated ultrafast 4D microscopy, transforming the way research is conducted.

Advanced imaging has become one of the most important approaches within the field of biomedicine, unlocking even greater research potential in the study and development of innovate therapies for diseases such as heart failure, cancer or diabetes.

Davide Calebiro, Professor of Molecular Endocrinology from University of Birmingham and Co-Director of COMPARE, led the funding bid. He said: “This project builds on insights and experiences gained during the pandemic where we needed to find solutions to train new researchers on equipment whilst maintaining social distancing. 

“Advanced microscopy methods and expertise supported by MOB, which range from single-molecule microscopy to large volume light sheet imaging, have a huge potential.

“The project will also further strengthen ongoing strategic collaborations in advanced microscopy, image analysis and equipment sharing already taking place within the Centre of Membrane Proteins and Receptors (COMPARE) of the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham and the TALENT project.”

Claire Mitchell, Imaging Specialist from University of Warwick also commented: “This is an exciting opportunity to bring together the fantastic resources and expertise in microscopy across the Midlands.

“As all our work has become more virtual, it is getting easier for a researcher in one university to remotely access a unique piece of equipment at another institution and the funding provided by the BBSRC will help to facilitate further sharing of these high value resources.

“It will also enable hybrid working within our institution as a user can log-on to check and update an experiment from home, meaning we can continue our research without being in the lab in person, increasing accessibility and flexibility for colleagues.”

Dr Helen Turner, Director for Midlands Innovation said: “We are committed to investing in and enhancing our research infrastructure to support our universities to deliver world-class research.

“This pilot will assess the benefits of using remote-control technologies with specialist software and cameras to introduce more flexibility into the research network and train new users further afield.

“The innovative project promotes fairer access to research equipment and creates opportunities for individuals who are unable to travel or who have caring responsibilities. Lessons learnt from the pilot will be applied to the wider research infrastructure to strengthen the network and create a more inclusive research environment. 

“I’m confident this pilot will highlight the benefits of investing in equipment and software to enhance and expand our research potential and further strengthen our research community by enabling even more research collaborations in key research areas to take place.”

Published 2 March 2022