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New microscope enhances TAMHSC-BCD’s research capabilities

New Leica Confocal Scope

Several large boxes and crates littered the fourth floor recently, but no one complained. Instead, there was an air of excitement. They signaled the arrival of the Leica TCS SP5, a confocal microscope that will increase the research capabilities of Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry’s light microscope facility.

The high-end research instrument was obtained through a National Institutes of Health shared instrumentation grant funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus money allocated to NIH in 2009. Capable of detecting at least four signal wavelengths, it will be available for physiological experiments on live tissues and organ-cultured specimens. 

The new confocal microscope replaces a Leica TCS SP2 Confocal Scanning Laser Microscope, a 10-plus-years-old instrument that has more than 5,500 logged hours on the lasers. The new microscope has several features that will offer users a faster scan rate, wider field and longer working distance objectives in a controlled environment. Once its capabilities are fully explored, the SP5 will strengthen the college’s core facilities for current studies and other projects.

TAMHSC-BCD faculty, students, postdoctoral fellows and technicians who need the instrument will be trained in its operation. Instrument utilization also will be integrated into the appropriate graduate courses that include practical research applications, such as Microscopy and Techniques in Cell and Molecular Biology. In addition, it will benefit the recruitment of new students, postdoctoral fellows and basic science faculty.

New Leica Confocal ScopeDr. Kathy Svoboda, Regents professor and graduate program director in biomedical sciences, is the principal investigator of the half million-dollar grant that funded the new microscope. Other biomedical sciences participants on the grant application were: Dr. Rena D’Souza, professor and chair; Dr. Jerry Feng, professor; Dr. Phillip Kramer, associate professor; Dr. Chunlin Qin, associate professor; Dr. Bruno Ruest, assistant professor; Dr. Robert Spears, associate professor; Dr. Douglas Benson, assistant professor; Dr. Lynne Opperman, professor, director and interim assistant dean for research and graduate studies; and Dr. Avadhesh Sharma.

The Biomedical Sciences Resource Committee will oversee the policies and use of the new instrument. Chaired by Dr. Allen Honeyman, associate professor, the committee includes Kramer, Opperman, Ruest, and Svoboda.

Anyone associated with TAMHSC-BCD may use the microscope. Before they can operate it on their own, however, they must complete a training course established by the Resource Committee or demonstrate previous experience and expertise with such an instrument. Once all the dust settles and a core user group is trained, the biomedical sciences department will train others interested in using the SP5. 

In the future, modest user fees will be charged to help defray at least half of the service contract expenses. A charge of $25 per hour of laser time will be assessed for short experiments and $250 per 24-hour period for live cell experiments. Investigators who plan extensive experiments are encouraged to budget and pay for confocal time in a block.