A virtual tour of my labs at the MRC Cancer Unit

All photos are 3D pictures, it was fun to try out the technology.

Regrettably, the MRC defunded the MRC Cancer Unit and the School of Clinical Medicine could no longer support our Department. In the current academic job market, I am experiencing some uncertainties about where I will relocate. This is thus one of my last opportunities to show where the discoveries we have done over the last years (in 2022 hopefully you will see much more in print).

Biolabs and 3d printing. Most people know me for my work in microscopy. However, more than half of my group is dedicated to cancer cell biology. This is the 3D picture of one of my wet lab bays. Opposite Suzan’s and Anna’s workplaces, we have our rapid prototyping workshop. Some of you might notice an old Maker Bot Replicator 2. My first introduction to 3D printing. But the most notable printer is the Form3B by Formlabs in our custom (orange) enclosure, with which we print both biocompatible scaffolds and chambers for our light-sheet microscope. Then the Ultimaker, a workhorse for all the needs. The last entry is a CellInk BioX, for 3D bioprinting that we are still integrating into our 3D culture workflow.

Laser lab. Ready for more tech? This is the room that bridges past and future developments. This laser lab was the first lab I could call ‘my lab’, where I started to work in 2010 as an EPSRC LSI fellow on my own. All new tech I produced over the last 12 years came from this room, at least initially. One side of the room serves as our electronics and optical workshop and then we have two optical tables dedicated to prototyping. Certainly a crowded room. The development of our SIM/FLIM system (ATLAS.ONE) was delayed by the pandemics and now we disassembled it getting ready for relocating. Before ATLAS.ONE, this room hosted the various iterations of confocal spectropolarimetry I developed over the years. The centrepiece of this room is now an open-top light-sheet microscope (ATLAS.TWO – CRUK funded). This is just the first preview of a system that hopefully will be the protagonist of many future papers.

Optogenetics lab. After a major infrastructural refurbishment, I was able to get a second laboratory, which I dedicated to optogenetics. Here, we prep samples in a (blue-light or red-light) darkroom. We also have small incubators to ensure keeping cells in light-controlled areas. There up on the shelves, there is the skeleton of our first OptoFarm, a system to culture cells under tightly controlled light (biochemical) protocols. Now, this is discontinued and replaced by a much simpler and more flexible system that we’ll publish soon. And yes, of course, you see also our workhorse for single-cell fluorescence dynamics, integrated with multiple cameras, photoactivation capabilities, multiple light sources, and microfluidics. This commercial system was bought and then modified with an MRF grant and despite being very temperamental, it gave us a lot of good data!

Biophotonics lab. I hear you asking… what about FLIM. Of course, we are almost there. Here, we dive into one of the rooms of the imaging facilities where I customized a multi-photon / confocal microscope with time-resolved technologies. In this front view, you see the Leica SP5 and the Chameleon Vision 2 (to the right). Two instruments that gave me a lot of satisfaction. The blue boxes are a custom-built FLIM system (ELIS) that I built when FLIM was still relatively slow. But now commercial systems are also super-fast and I have packed ELIS for good. To be unpacked, once I will have new laboratories, the PicoQuant rapid FLIM of the latest generation.

Let’s go around the table because this room is full of tech. In this room, I hosted several generations of HDIM systems. Some published, others not. The black box on the table is a streamlined and efficient version of HDIM, a time-resolved spectropolarimeter. Coupled with the multi-photon microscope, we get high efficiency in detecting fluorescence with 16 concurrent spectral channels, 2 polarizations and 64 time-bins. Under the table, is the amazing SPC152 – the heart of the system by Becker&Hickl.

Yes, a lot of boxes around because we need to pack up! The back of the table hosts a pulse-picker we used with SPAD arrays, beam conditioning optics and HDIM Gen 4 (I think!) 🙂 I stopped its development because of COVID but soon or late I will resume. Hopefully, this will be fully automated also in its alignment and will integrate fast FLIM electronics.

This first virtual tour ends here. Hopefully, the next tour – with a bit of luck – will be from my new labs.

Author: Alessandro

Please visit my website to know more about me and my research http://www.quantitative-microscopy.org

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