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OMG! Super-Resolution Microscope Shines Light on Superbugs, Cancer and Drug-Resistant Slime

Researchers call it the “OMG” microscope. They use the machine, whose proper name is DeltaVision OMX*, to study malaria parasites worming their way into red blood cells, see how the HIV virus jumps from a cell to cell, and look for weak spots in the defenses of dangerous superbugs like MRSA and drug-resistant slime.

Every fall, GE Healthcare Life Sciences, which makes the microscope and other high and super-resolution technology, holds a cell imaging competition where scientists from around the world can enter their best pictures. The jury just announced the winners of the 2013 contest.

Vanessa Auld from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, finished first in the microscopy category. She photographed stained proteins in an area of the drosophila fruit fly where muscle fibers and nerves meet to study neurodegenerative disease (see below).

Description: Drosophila neuromuscular junction stained for extracellular matrix proteins (green and blue) and the nerve terminal (red). Therapeutic focus: Neurodegenerative disease.

Graham Wright, researcher at the Institute of Medical Biology ‑ A*STAR in Singapore, was the regional winner in the microscopy category. His image of a mouse spermatocyte could illuminate fertility treatment (top picture).

Martin Barr from the St. James’s Hospital and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, won in the high-content analysis category, using another type of high-resolution technology. Barr’s image of a lung adenocarcinoma cell (see below) could advance cancer research.

The winning images will receive marquee treatment in New York City. They will be displayed in Times Square between April 25 and 27.

Description: Lung adenocarcinoma cell  stained for F-actin (green), mitochondria (red) and DNA (blue). Therapeutic focus: Cancer.

The super-resolution OMX microscope can see objects as small as 120 nanometers. Unlike a traditional microscope, the machine does not have an ocular lens. Scientists place samples on a platform inside the machine and photograph it with high resolution cameras.

The OMX uses powerful algorithms to process the images and break through the diffraction barrier. For a long time, the barrier prevented researchers from seeing two objects closer to each other than half the wavelength of light they used to image the sample.

The results can be mind-blowing. Indiana University researcher Jane Stout, who won the competition last year, dubbed the microscope “OMG” after seeing unprecedented details inside the cancer cells she studied. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the U.S., wrote on his blog that the microscope’s images were “showstoppers.”

*Delta Vision OMX is a GE trademark. Delta Vision OMX is for research use only, not for use in diagnostic procedures.

Category: Microscopy. Image description: Metaphase epithelial cell in metaphase stained for microtubules (red), kinetochores (green) and DNA (blue). Therapeutic focus: Cancer.

Jane Stout’s photograph of a metaphase epithelial cell in metaphase stained for microtubules (red), kinetochores (green) and DNA (blue) was a winner in 2012. The image, used for cancer research, was displayed in Times Square last April.

Category: Microscopy. Image description: Tissue section stained for CD4+ cells (red), stroma (green) and nuclei (blue). Therapeutic focus: HIV.

This image of a white blood helper cell taken by the OMX microscope was a finalist last year. Scientists took it for HIV research. Image description: Tissue section stained for CD4+ cells (red), stroma (green) and nuclei (blue).

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