A new £5million microscope has the potential to revolutionise type 1 diabetes research.
The device, installed at Monash University, Melbourne, enables scientists to observe molecular structures at an extremely high resolution, potentially leading to huge advances in research for cancer, type 1 diabetes, malaria, and a number of other diseases.
The microscope fires a series of high-energy electrons through a sample of biological material frozen in liquid ethane. When these electrons are deflected in the beam a two-dimensional image of the sample is created. The deflections are capable of creating multiple two-dimensional images, which can combine to make three-dimensional shapes.
Through a process of snap-freezing, the images will enable researchers to look as closely at the immune structures of molecular-level diseases – such as diabetes and cancer – as they would be able to look at living cells. The electron beam provides a much greater magnification than visible-light microscopes.
The detailed models of the molecules created by the microscope will give researchers greater access to the positioning of individual atoms. In other words, scientists will have a much more detailed idea of how diseases such as type 1 diabetes and cancer work.
Professor James Whisstock, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging, said: “Understanding our immune system is central to fighting cancer, infectious diseases such as malaria, and auto-immune diseases such as diabetes, rheumatism and multiple sclerosis.
“The key to understanding and treating these diseases lies in understanding how proteins and cells interact at the molecular level.
“We want to transform our understanding of the human immune system and position Australia at the leading edge of the field – this microscope will us to do that.”

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