User: Lynne Coluccio, a cell biologist at Boston Biomedical Research Institute, Watertown, Mass.
Project: Structure and function of the unconventional (nonmuscle) myosin, myo-1c, expressed in the hair cells of the inner ear.
Problem: Unless a lab focuses primarily on imaging, few researchers without a generous startup package can afford a specialized microscope, which can cost between $250,000 and $600,000.
Solution: Coluccio and nine colleagues applied for a National Institutes of Health grant to cover a shared setup. Projects range from calcium signaling in muscle to cancer cell interactions, so the group decided on a spinning-disk confocal microscope, which can image on both a short- and long-time scale. "Conventional scanning confocal is not as well suited for either of those things," says Coluccio.
Traditional laser-scanning confocal microscopes rely on a pinhole to scatter unfocused light and thus provide high-resolution images in a stack of focal planes. But, those systems image slowly and cause significant phototoxicity to the tissue. The spinning-disk confocal microscope instead uses a disk with about 20,000 pinholes to scan multiple points simultaneously. (See "The confocal microscope," The Scientist, 18(22):32, 2004.) The drawback, however, is a slight loss of resolution compared to a point-scanning confocal, as well as a loss in flexibility, since changing pinhole size to regulate the amount of light reaching the sample is impossible.
Coluccio looked at several systems and went to imaging conferences before choosing the Perkins Elmer UltraView spinning-disk microscope, with five lasers to image different fluorescent probes. "The systems are all pretty much the same in what they can do," she says, but with so many users without the support of a staffed core facility, she looked for a user-friendly system that a variety of people can be easily trained to use.
Cost: ~ $470,000