University of Otago Research Fellow Dr Karl Iremonger and Associate Prof Ruth Empson, both of the Otago physiology department, with a new multiphoton microscope. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
A revolutionary new $1 million microscope will allow
University of Otago medical scientists to peer into living
brain cells for the first time, and to study the development
of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's.
The university's newly-acquired ''multiphoton microscope''
applies a powerful but harmless infra-red light that ''sees
into living organs and cells with unparalleled detail and
speed'', officials said.
The microscope is the first of its kind in New Zealand and
one of only a handful in the world.
It was bought with funding from New Zealand Lottery Health
and several internal Otago University sources.
Associate Prof Ruth Empson, who chaired an informal group
which co-ordinated efforts to obtain the microscope, and Prof
Richard Blaikie, the Otago deputy vice-chancellor, research
and enterprise, yesterday spoke at a function to ''open'' the
The physiology department had driven this initiative and
physiology was the scientific discipline that sought to
understand ''how living things work'', Prof Empson said.
Understanding how they worked was ''critical for fixing
them'' and the knowledge, developed with the microscope,
would ''help answer important questions in human health and
diseases including stroke, arrhythmia, wound healing and
irritable bowel disease,''she said.
Prof Empson, and fellow physiology researchers Dr Karl
Iremonger and Dr Peter Jones, were among those who worked to
acquire the microscope.
Prof Blaikie said the launch of the microscope highlighted
the university's commitment to investing in state-of-the-art
scientific equipment to enhance the world-leading research.
This ''powerful new tool'', housed at the Otago Centre for
Confocal Microscopy, would allow researchers to ''look at the
microscopic intricacies of living systems in literally a
brand new light'', he said.
The microscope would be used to image a wide variety of
living tissues and animal organs including the brain, skin,
lungs, gut and lymph nodes.
Prof Empson, who is also a member of the university's Brain
Health Research Centre, said it was ''incredibly exciting''
that the microscope had now arrived, and new insights would
Being able to see deep into a ''previously impenetrable
structure like the brain'', and measure its electrical
activity, would ''revolutionise our understanding of how
complex networks of brain cells'' used electrical impulses to
communicate with each other, she said.