Case study: Building the Next Generation Biomedical Imaging Technologies
The Oxford-ZEISS Centre of Excellence in Biomedical Imaging (Oxford-ZEISS CoE) is more than a bioimaging facility – it’s a space where together with ZEISS Research and Development (R&D) Oxford’s researchers conceive and create new methodologies exploiting the latest commercial ZEISS microscopy technology. The Oxford-ZEISS CoE is a strategic partnership between the Carl ZEISS AG, the Institute for Developmental and Regenerative Medicine (IDRM), and the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology (KIR) at the University of Oxford. This partnership represents an ideal collaboration between academia and industry for solving biological problems. This case study will describe the partnership at the heart of the centre, its role as a melting pot for new imaging ideas, and how the centre’s ground-breaking technologies allow us to observe scientific processes in increasingly remarkable ways. The Oxford-ZEISS CoE will hold an official inaugural event on 21st February 2024 which will showcase the success of the Oxford-ZEISS partnership.
Technologies for imaging live single cells, tissues and organisms have advanced rapidly over the last few decades. The first confocal microscope was developed in 1978, but the cloning of green fluorescent protein (GFP) in 1992 enabled the visualisation of sub-cellular dynamics in live cells for the first time. The last 30 years have seen astounding developments in the speed and resolution of live cell confocal microscopy, as well as faster analysis methods. Even so, science tends to generate novel research questions pertaining to health and disease faster than imaging technologies can be developed to answer them. Additionally, and unsurprisingly, refining new imaging technologies is a time-consuming and expensive process. This creates a challenge: how can we close the gap between scientific needs and technological developments?
The challenge can be best addressed by bringing together technology developers and academic researchers into long-term close collaborations. Researchers at the University of Oxford have teamed up with ZEISS to do exactly this. The result of this partnership is the Oxford-ZEISS CoE, physically located at the KIR and the IDRM at the University of Oxford. Within the Oxford-ZEISS CoE, researchers have the freedom to raise questions related to their field of study which can challenge current imaging capabilities. ZEISS engineers and researchers can then work together to develop and benchmark technologies to answer those questions. ZEISS is then in the ideal position to integrate these methodologies into their existing commercial microscopy platforms.
As a site of new technology development, the Oxford-ZEISS CoE has seen lots of ‘firsts’. The centre received the first ZEISS Lattice Lightsheet Microscope (LLSM) in Europe, the first two-camera feature in the world, and created the first software to acquire stacked three-dimensional image volumes that it generates. The Oxford-ZEISS CoE also created a novel approach for perfusing live tissues which would be too large to perfuse with laminar flow, meaning that larger and more complex live tissues can be imaged than before. Researchers alongside ZEISS have also developed a novel quantitative LLSM spectroscopy method applicable to drug screening. These new technologies enable researchers to better study processes involved in health and development and where they go wrong in disease, answering research questions across immunology, neurology, embryology, cardiology, and cancer.
By solidifying its position as a centre where novel imaging technologies are created and tested, the Oxford-ZEISS CoE is positioned at the forefront of bioimaging research and will likely be a place where future scientific questions become answerable for the first time. Professor Marco Fritzsche, the Scientific Director of the Oxford-ZEISS CoE says ‘Our partnership with ZEISS will be a major force in the challenge to establish new imaging technology and make them available around the globe. Excitingly, we believe that together we will attract more academic partners across Oxford and industry internationally’.
In addition to creating the next generation of imaging technologies, the Oxford-ZEISS CoE has an abundance of cutting-edge commercially available imaging systems including a multi-photon microscope for powerful deep imaging, two of the latest fast ZEISS 980 Airyscan confocal microscopes, and high-throughput ZEISS Axioscan Slide scanner.
Further growth and next steps
The centre has been operational since 2022 and is growing strongly. An official Inaugural Opening event on 21st February 2024 will provide an opportunity to showcase the success of the collaboration and to look to the future.
Researchers at the Oxford-ZEISS CoE aim to develop long-term collaborations with partners from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries to advance their technical and scientific knowledge. It is hoped that the world-class imaging facilities and first-in-world technologies would be a substantial attractor to the centre. The centre welcomes collaborative ideas from industrial partners wishing to work at the forefront of biomedical imaging.
Dr Bernhard Zimmermann, Head of Business Sector Life Sciences at ZEISS Germany, explains ‘The methods developed at the Oxford-ZEISS CoE gives the company an extra edge to improve our microscopy technology to better meet the needs of the biological questions in Oxford and beyond’. Drs Kseniya Korobchevskaya and Helena Coker, Advanced Microscopy Managers at the Oxford-ZEISS CoE, highlight ‘We are pleased that the collaboration with ZEISS has already resulted in a new collaboration with PicoQuant, a worldwide leader in the development and manufacturing of high quality photonic components and instruments for a broad range of scientific applications’. Dr Jacky Ka Long Ko, the Advanced Bioimage Analyst at the Oxford-ZEISS CoE, concludes: ‘Our hardware and Artificial Intelligence Software solutions have been proven to be instrumental for the quantitative analysis of our users in Oxford and hold the potential to transform industrial research in the pharmaceutical and biotechnological space.’
If you are interested in attending the opening event on 21st February 2024, please contact Drs Kseniya Korobchevskaya and Helena Coker at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
We acknowledge the generous support of the Kennedy Trust for Rheumatology Research, the British Heart Foundation awarded to the IDRM, and the Carl Zeiss AG for the microscopy facilities used in this research.