Microscope zooms in on JCU research

A state-of-the-art laser scanning microscope worth half a million dollars is set to boost James Cook University’s capability for life-saving medical research.

Based at JCU’s Nguma-bada campus in Smithfield, the Zeiss LSM 900 confocal microscope can capture two dimensional images at various depths within a sample, which can then be used to create a 3D reconstruction that assists in analysing the impacts of diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, dengue and schistosomiasis on the human body.

The microscope will be joined by a sample preparation device known as a cryostat, which is used to slice frozen tissue samples for analysis.

Both pieces of equipment were purchased by the University following a generous donation for medical research left in the Will of North Queensland man John Dunn.

JCU Advanced Analytical Centre Senior Research Officer Dr Jennifer Whan said confocal microscopy had many applications within the biological sciences, the pharmaceutical industry and even materials sciences.

“Confocal microscopes are considered an essential tool, and indeed standard instrumentation, within universities and research institutes and possess many diverse applications,” she said.

“Having a confocal microscope on site will allow researchers to quickly and efficiently analyse the effects of experiments carried out in labs on campus.”

Dr Whan said unlike conventional microscopes which rely on light to illuminate the whole field of view, a confocal microscope uses lasers and a pinhole to increase optical resolution and contrast.

The main users of the device will come from within the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM), while the microscope will also be used by researchers from other disciplines including plant physiology, dentistry, chemistry, and engineering.

The microscope will be used across several different research projects.

That includes one involving AITHM Senior Research Fellow Dr Andreas Kupz and PhD student Judith Blake, which aims to develop a better understanding of how to safely deliver the tuberculosis vaccine directly to the human lungs, the site of tuberculosis infection.

The research team hopes the use of the confocal microscope will also significantly contribute to further pre-clinical development of their advanced tuberculosis vaccine candidate.

JCU’s Dean of Research Professor Andrew Krockenberger said he was thrilled with the new equipment and its huge potential.

“The pace of cutting-edge research can be rapid, and the technologies available to researchers are critical to enable them to push the outcomes into new and valuable places,” he said.

“This extremely generous bequest from Mr Dunn helps us to make sure that our researchers have the tools they need to do the ground-breaking work they are so good at.

“This microscope is worth much more than the half a million dollars it cost. It is a workhorse that will enable a decade and more of high-quality research with impact on the lives and livelihoods of people in our communities.”

After being notified of Mr Dunn’s Will in 2018, the University worked with the Public Trustee of Queensland to canvas options for how the funds from his estate could best be used to satisfy the intent of his legacy.

The microscope and cryostat were selected and the proposal was formally signed off in February 2021, with the equipment being sent from Germany.

JCU Advancement Manager Damien Watson said Mr Dunn’s donation was testament to the University’s stellar reputation for world-class research.

“It’s an amazing gift of generosity when someone leaves the entirety of their estate to an institution they may not have physically attended, but trusted and respected enough to leave such an enduring legacy in their name,” Mr Watson said.

“A gift such as this will have a huge impact not only on the progression of research at JCU but will also be the catalyst to provide significant impact regionally and globally.”

Public Trustee of Queensland CEO Samay Zhouand said the generosity of Queenslanders supports the betterment of local communities.

“A Will bequest of more than $550,000, managed by the Public Trustee, was granted to James Cook University to purchase the confocal microscope,” he said.

“The generosity and community spirit of this Queenslander has contributed to the advancement of research in the treatment of serious medical conditions on a global scale, right here in North Queensland.

“Everyone has the opportunity to leave a legacy and give back to their community by including a bequest in their Will.”

Those interested in making a donation or a bequest in their Will to JCU are urged to contact Damien Watson at [email protected] or on 4781 5486.

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