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CARSLab microscopy lab officially opens


Ottawa, ON – 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.

NRC and Olympus America recently 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.

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.

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.

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.”