Life Science Laboratory
University News

IALS Core Facilities Invest in State-of-the Art Microscopy Equipment with $3.2 Million Grants from Mass Life Sciences

Two Institute for Applied Life Sciences’ (IALS) Core Facilities have received sophisticated microscopy instruments – the first such instruments to be located in Western Massachusetts – through grants totaling more than $3.2 million from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC).

The UMass Amherst grants are included in a funding package of more than $30.5 million to support life sciences innovation, workforce and STEM education across Massachusetts.

Alexander Ribbe
Alexander Ribbe

The first award of $1,655,774 will fund the IALS Electron Microscope Facility’s purchase of a cryo-Transmission electron microscope (cryo-TEM), technology that the microscopy facility did not possess, and which will be the first to be located in Western Massachusetts, says facility director Alexander Ribbe.

The microscope will be used to image and analyze the structure of single particles, such as proteins, Ribbe said. Because Cryo-TEMs can freeze proteins in a particular state, they were instrumental in the creation of the MRNA Covid-19 vaccine and evolved into an important tool for drug development.

Due to his materials background, Ribbe says he will be exploring way to use the equipment to investigate non-biological systems and conduct soft materials research. The instrument will also serve as an accessible introduction to cryo-electron microscopy for graduate students, Ribbe said.

The disassembled instrument is currently on campus, and Ribbe says he expects installation to be completed later this winter or early spring.

The second award, $1,555,276, has allowed the Light Microscopy facility under director James Chambers to purchase technology that was missing from its imaging portfolio, expanding light microscopy offerings for biomedical training and research at UMass Amherst and beyond.

James Chambers
James Chambers

“Acquisition automation is a huge part of modern biomedical imaging, and that was a key feature that I used to put together the (instrument) package,” Chambers says. “We can now automate imaging of thick, live samples such as spheroids/organoids — experimental cell lines derived from cancer/normal tissue—over long periods of time to study treatments, and more traditional histology and fluorescently stained slides. Imaging automation provides fast and unbiased data, and this is key for many research thrusts from users who are both on- and off-campus.”

The suite of new equipment is currently installed, and Chambers says he expects it to be ready to use by early 2024.

Chambers said that the burgeoning fields of tissue engineering, organoids and spheroids will be the biggest benefactor, but that the investment will also enhance traditional biomedical research.

Much of the research in his lab involved personalized medicine strategies, drug development and delivery, basic cell biology and material science. All of these areas, he said, benefit from the MLSC investment.

The funding announcement was made at the grand opening of Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives’ Pilot Biomanufacturing Center on Oct. 19, which was supported with $3.5 million in MLSC funding.