ARCHIVED - CARSLab drives medical research down new avenues

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December 07, 2009— Ottawa, Ontario

A new microscopy lab at NRC will give Canada's biomedical science community unprecedented access to a state-of-the-art technique that is already advancing research into atherosclerosis, hepatitis C, spinal cord injuries and "demyelinating" diseases such as multiple sclerosis that degrade the insulators of nerve cells. The laboratory also holds promise for research into diabetes, brain injuries and some types of cancer. 

On November 17, NRC and Olympus America Inc. officially unveiled the Coherent Anti-Stokes Raman Scattering Laboratory (CARSLab) in Ottawa, inaugurating equipment that uses novel microscopic techniques refined by NRC over the past five years and commercialized by Olympus this year. 

Adrian Pegoraro, a PhD Student at Queen’s University, in the new NRC-Olympus CARSLab Microscopy Facility

Adrian Pegoraro, a PhD Student at Queen’s University, in the new NRC-Olympus CARSLab Microscopy Facility

The CARSLab equipment can be used on live cells, and is particularly sensitive to lipids or fat in cells, related to many body processes. This makes the microscope useful, for example, for real time monitoring of little-understood mechanisms by which different types of plaque deposits accumulate in arteries affected by atherosclerosis, or by which digestive systems absorb dietary fat. 

NRC’s CARSLab team. Left to right: Group Leader Dr. Albert Stolow, Doug Moffat, Dr. Aaron Slepkov, Dr. Andrew Ridsdale, Adrian Pegoraro and Denis Guay

NRC’s CARSLab team. Left to right: Group Leader Dr. Albert Stolow, Doug Moffat, Dr. Aaron Slepkov, Dr. Andrew Ridsdale, Adrian Pegoraro and Denis Guay.

As well, because certain cancers, neurological diseases and spinal cord injuries involve the action of lipids, CARS microscopy can be used to monitor nuances of the disease process, and potentially help researchers find new treatments. 

Earlier versions of CARS microscopes, such as those developed at Harvard University, cost more than half a million dollars, were very complex and exacting to use and maintain. This prevented their rapid commercialization. By incorporating NRC developments that make the technique relatively simple, stable and inexpensive, Olympus was able to announce the world's first commercially available CARS microscope in October 2009 [see sidebar"CARS microscopy"]. 

This image of arterial plaque was produced in the NRC-Olympus CARSLab facility.

This image of arterial plaque was produced in the NRC-Olympus CARSLab facility.

Dr. Albert Stolow of the NRC Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences (NRC-SIMS) is the program leader of a group that conducts research in femtosecond (10-15 seconds) lasers and ultrafast molecular dynamics. Along with his co-workers, Dr. Stolow developed the new technique and transferred it to Olympus for commercialization. Since 2002, he has helped other researchers recognize the opportunities CARS brings to their research problems. In the process, his team has trained and aided local biomedical scientists. The new CARSLab is open to a range of research partners, including the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) and the University of Ottawa. 

NRC's training focus gives the CARSLab even more impact, says Dr. David Courtman, director of biotherapeutics core facilities at OHRI. "As cell biology progresses, the techniques researchers must use to make important future discoveries keep becoming more resource-intensive and less intuitive for them." 

CARS microscopy

The Coherent Anti-Stokes Raman Scattering (CARS) effect was discovered in the mid-1960s and first applied to live cell microscopy in 1999. Until now, it has been too complex and costly for most researchers.

The CARSLab at NRC is used to observe living cells. Since the insides of cells are not naturally colour-coded, different components do not look very different under a standard microscope that uses visible light. Over the past century, researchers have developed dyes and stains that clearly show these different constituents. However, traditional staining techniques may affect some exceedingly complex biochemistry when used to study a live cell “in action." CARS microscopy avoids this problem by exploiting the internal vibrations or “Raman spectra” that are characteristic of different cell molecules, “lighting up” the molecules. CARS can make movies of live cell processes, without adding any dyes or stains that might alter them.

Moreover, the new NRC-Olympus microscope is capable of doing several types of real time imaging at once, to give multiple contrasting views of a single object at a resolution of 300 nanometres.

Biomedical researchers urgently need imaging techniques that can non-invasively examine live cell functions, he adds.  "It's very exciting to have something like this lab in place at NRC to help us develop and train people, and develop imaging techniques for specific applications." 

Dr. John Pezacki is a senior research officer at NRC-SIMS. After his team used CARS to clarify how the hepatitis C virus spreads, its results generated enough buzz to attract potential new clients. 

"We got the biologists excited, so there are many people in this area who want to use CARS," he says.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada
613-991-1431
media@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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