Technology Brings College Research into Focus
by Jonas Siegel
Would you know a molecule if it rolled down the street at you?
Technologies often allow scientists in the life sciences to get inside
their research materials, to see biological structures and processes on
the most elementary level. Faculty at the College and the University are
gaining a new focus on their subject matters, thanks to several new pieces
of technology at the College.
In November, 14 investigators including Dr. Roberto Docampo, professor
of microbiology/immunology, and Dr. Rex A. Hess, professor of morphology
and toxicology, received a grant from the Illinois Council on Food and
Agriculture Research (C-FAR) that helped the College purchase a confocal
Dr. Docampo will use this technologically advanced microscope to help
him identify proteins within organelles of parasites. By verifying the
functions of these organelles, Dr. Docampo hopes to develop appropriate
chemotherapeutic treatments to rid an organism of a specific parasite.
A microtubule, which helps organelles move throughout
a cell, is captured in a dynamic image from the confocal microscope.
Dr. Hess will be using the microscope to observe the interaction of
proteins associated with sperm development, and microtubules, which facilitate
the movement of organelles through a cell. Because the confocal microscope
can show more than one image at the same time, in optical sections, Dr.
Hess will be able to see if specific chemicals are interfering with the
development of sperm cells.
A confocal microscope uses scanning lasers to optically dissect the
layers of a specimen. The microscope has the potential to produce high-resolution,
three-dimensional images of these layers by capturing and organizing the
reflections of light that the lasers emit.
Dr. Hess, director of the Center
for Microscopic Imaging, which is one of many imaging centers that
serve University-wide needs, had been seeking funding for a confocal microscope
for some time. Since C-FAR awarded its large grant for the purchase of
the microscope, University departments and colleges as well as the University
research board have contributed funding to reach the approximate $155,000
new High Performance Liquid Chromotograph with mass spectroscopic detector
will be used in clinical as well as research efforts.
“We have had a lot of support from people around the University,” says
Dr. Hess. He expects faculty from throughout the university to come and
use one of only two such microscopes dedicated to service laboratories
The College is an ideal place to locate uncommon but useful pieces of
research equipment because the facilities are easily made available to
a wide variety of potential users, even those outside of the University.
Soon the College will be the only public institution in the state of
Illinois—and one of only a few in the country—with a ribotyper. The College
recently purchased a ribotyper with the help of another C-FAR grant. A
ribotyper is used to identify bacteria by genotype rather than by phenotype
to detect pathogenic strains in food and animal samples.
According to Dr. Howard Gelberg, associate dean for research, the ribotyper
will allow researchers to evaluate the effectiveness of changes in animal
rearing, slaughter, and processing aimed to eliminate reservoirs of pathogens.
Professionals throughout the state will use the ribotyper to trace food
poisoning outbreaks, says Dr. Gelberg. But the ribotyper will remain located
in the diagnostic laboratory.
Also expanding research and clinical capabilities through new technology,
the pharmacology and anesthesiology units have teamed up to purchase a
High Performance Liquid Chromatograph with mass spectroscopic detector
(LC-MS). Both departments will use the LC-MS to quantify and analyze mixtures
of chemical compounds.
Dr. Ted Whittem, assistant professor in pharmacology, who was part of
the team that recommended the purchase of the LC-MS, said that the methodology
of pharmacology research has matured to the point that they need to be
able to analyze specific molecules within samples.
Other College faculty members will use the LC-MS to directly impact
clinical work. Dr. William Tranquilli, professor of anesthesiology, notes
that when human analgesics are given to animals as part of a pain treatment,
it is usually in low doses.
Previously there was no way of tracking concentrations of low doses
in the blood of animals. But with the LC-MS, low concentrations of drugs
will be more easily identified, and anesthesiologists will be able to pinpoint
combinations of analgesics that provide the most effective pain management
The LC-MS was installed the second week in December and its components
all fit on a tabletop in the service room. The $150,000 invested in this
machinery brings the College’s analytical capabilities into the new century.
Together, the ribotyper, the LC-MS and the confocal microscope will
cost just over a half million dollars. Both grants and College resources
paid for these purchases.