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The Kennedy Institute for Rheumatology and the Institute of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine announce the launch of the Oxford-Zeiss Centre of Excellence, providing state-of-the-art imaging technologies to lead future discoveries in global health and disease.

Confocal imaging of antigen-induced arthritis in mouse knee. Image taken by Kristina Zec
Confocal imaging of antigen-induced arthritis in mouse knee. Image taken by Kristina Zec.

A new Oxford-Zeiss Centre of Excellence (Oxford-ZCoE) in Biomedical Imaging has opened its doors to researchers at the University of Oxford. A strategic partnership between the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology (KIR) and the Institute of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine (IDRM), the new centre brings advanced state-of-the-art Zeiss imaging equipment and analysis tools to advance the study of global health and disease.

The first centre of its kind in the UK and Europe, Oxford-ZCoE is centred on the close relationship between the Carl Zeiss AG and Oxford. Professor Marco Fritzsche, Scientific Director of the Oxford-ZCoE said: "Our partnership with Zeiss has enabled Oxford to develop a facility providing the latest technologies in live imaging that will keep it competitive with international research."

The KIR and IRDM have broad research interests across immunology, neurology, embryology, cardiology, and cancer. Their goal is to study the key biological processes that underpin normal healthy development, and where these may go wrong in disease. Improvements in microscopy resolution and fast imaging enable researchers to observe complex functions and behaviour at the single cell level, within tissues, and across whole organisms. The Oxford-ZCoE provides a broad spectrum of different technologies that can answer research questions in living samples with a view to treating some of the world's most prolific diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, neuro-degenerative diseases, or conditions related to inflammation or tissue repair.

For example, in addition to a range of recently installed lattice light sheet microscopes, the centre has introduced two of the latest fast Zeiss 980 Airyscan confocals. These state-of-the-art microscopes are the workhorses of super-resolution imaging and include super-fast scanners and spectroscopy. These sit alongside a multi-photon microscope for powerful deep imaging, and low magnification systems for imaging fixed tissues and large tile regions. All the microscopy technologies are supported by arivis AG (a Zeiss company), who provide the software for image analysis and interpretation, ensuring researchers have a complete end-to-end service.

One of the most future thinking aspects of the partnership with Zeiss is its ability to evolve the imaging facility based on the latest research questions.

"We have built a concept that not only gives our researchers access to the latest commercially available optical imaging microscopes, but also to the unique expertise of Zeiss engineers in their Research and Development team," explained Professor Fritzsche. "This gives us the freedom to raise questions relating to our areas of biological study that may challenge current microscopy capabilities, allowing us to continue to develop new technologies and transform microscopy across our research interests."

"ZEISS are delighted to have formed such an important strategic partnership with the KIR at the University of Oxford in the year of our 175th anniversary. Close collaboration with great scientific minds has been at the forefront of ZEISS' philosophy from the inception of the company in 1846 and continues to this day," said aid Dr. Ben Ewins, ZEISS account manager for Oxford University.

Paul Riley, British Heart Foundation Professor of Regenerative Medicine and Director of the Institute of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine said: "Advanced bioimaging is essential if we are to understand the molecular and cellular events that underpin normal development, birth defects and tissue repair and regeneration. The Oxford-ZCoE represents a unique strategic opportunity for the IDRM in providing access to the latest commercially available optical microscopes, alongside a unique collaboration with colleagues at the Kennedy Institute and Zeiss engineers which will challenge and improve existing microscopy capability to address our major research questions and advance our therapeutic pipeline."

Michael Dustin, Professor and Scientific Director of the Kennedy, said: "I'm excited about the opportunity to work closely with Zeiss on the next generation of microscopy technologies equipping us to better help patients suffering from autoimmune diseases and cancer."

Oxford-ZCoE will formally open in Spring 2022, but already welcomes researchers and future partners looking to access pioneering microscopy. One such group is the Centre for Immuno-oncology and the Institute for Biomedical Engineering (IMBE) at Oxford University. Tim Elliott, Kidani Professor of Immuno-oncology and Director of the Centre for Immuno-oncology at Oxford University, said: "We are entering a new era of immunological treatments for cancer and it is clear that we will need to know how immune cells interact with tumour cells and stromal cells in space and time to progress our understanding. New imaging technologies will be at the heart of this progress." Eleanor Stride, Professor of Biomaterials further explains: "Advanced imaging is of huge value in understanding the mechanisms of action underpinning the stimuli responsive drug delivery systems being developed in the IBME and the downstream effects on immune response."

The centre has started to build a community across the University, but is also building collaborations across the UK and is looking to connect with confocal groups around the world. Interested groups can find out more by visiting the Oxford-ZCoE Centre website

We acknowledge the generous support of the Kennedy Trust for Rheumatology Research, IDRM and the Carl Zeiss AG for the microscopy facilities used in this research.