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New robotic microscope helps scientists track cells over time

A new inventiona robotic microscopeis opening the way for scientists to track changes in cells over time as genes are expressed and the resulting proteins go into action. Tracking this dynamic process is extremely difficult using conventional techniques. Part of the problem has been the cells' need for the warmth and atmosphere of an incubator such that cells can only be taken out and viewed for brief periods of time.

The robotic microscope, the brainchild of Steven Finkbeiner, MD, PhD, investigator in the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease and UCSF assistant professor of neurology and physiology, overcomes this problem.

At first glance, the robotic microscope looks like an ordinary inverted microscope. The differences are in the fast and precise motors and sophisticated computer programs that automatically focus the objective, move the stage, and photograph cells growing in a plastic tissue culture plate.

For each plate of cells, the microscope first focuses on an internal reference point. It then moves the plate a precise distance, refocuses itself, and takes a photograph, repeating this process until it has obtained images of the entire plate or any specific area.

Hours or days later, the plate can be returned to the microscope, and the same cells can be identified and re-examined. A computer program, also developed by Finkbeiner, automatically analyzes the photos within minutes. He can ask the computer to measure cells with specific morphologies, specific amounts of proteins, or other features.

"The pieces of the puzzle were out there, it was just a matter of putting them together," said Finkbeiner, referring to the components he used to build the microscope.

The microscope was developed to facilitate his studies of Huntington's disease, an inherited neurological disorder that causes involuntary movements, cognitive decline, and personality disturbances, usually beginning in midlife, Finkbeiner said. H
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Contact: Laura Lane
llane@gladstone.ucsf.edu
415-695-3833
University of California - San Francisco
7-Jun-2002


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