Birkbeck laboratory receives funding for new state-of-the-art equipment

Research into a range of diseases will benefit from new energy filter and electron detector

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has awarded the Birkbeck Electron Microscopy Laboratory funding of £654,000 for a new energy filter and state-of-the-art electron detector for electron tomography. The equipment will greatly enhance the scientists’ research on cellular structures.

The research team in the Electron Microscopy Laboratory, led by Professor Helen Saibil (pictured), studies the structures of cellular machines that carry out the functions of life, with the aim of understanding how they work. They use electron microscopy of rapidly frozen samples to provide highly detailed information on the structure of biological molecules, as well as views of the organisation of cells and tissues. Electron tomography is a technique which enables the team to determine the three-dimensional structures of cellular machinery.

Research projects that will benefit from the new equipment include studies on how the parasites Malaria and Toxoplasma damage cellular membranes during their cycles of invasion and release from host cells and how cellular machinery tries to protect us from the effects of protein damage and aggregation in amyloid diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease as we get older. Studies on bacterial secretion systems and on viruses that infect bacteria are important in understanding pathogenesis and may provide new avenues for development of anti-bacterial compounds. Work on the actions of immune system cells in killing infected or cancerous cells in the bloodstream, and on the cytoskeleton machinery carrying out transport processes in neurons during brain development will also be greatly enhanced by the newly awarded equipment.

Professor Saibil of the Electron Microscopy Laboratory said: “The award of the new energy filter and associated state of the art electron detector is very exciting for us. It will greatly enhance our research into cellular structures associated with a range of diseases.”

The funding was awarded as the BBSRC invested more than £10 million in new equipment for UK universities. Professor Jackie Hunter, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: “This funding represents a significant investment in advanced equipment for UK scientists and underlines BBSRC’s commitment to making sure its research community has the best resources to continue to undertake world-leading research.”

Professor Saibil is also one of the academic leads for a new imaging centre for biology which will be built at the Diamond Light Source in Oxford. The centre will be funded by a £15.6 million grant from the Wellcome Trust, The Medical Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.