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Unique microscope technology Mesolens listed as a top ten breakthrough of 2016 by Physics World

9 Nov 2017

This case study forms part of our annual Investing for impact report looking at how we delivered impact through our research in 2015/16. The full report will be published shortly.

The Mesolens – a giant microscope lens which combines high resolution with a large field of view – was listed as one of the top ten breakthroughs of 2016 by Physics World. The Mesolens was engineered by Dr Brad Amos at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) and can examine thousands of cells and the detail inside each cell at the same time. 

For several hundred years, scientists have studied living tissues in fine detail using optical microscopes. Unfortunately, the images captured through standard microscope lenses are inevitably a compromise between the level of detail in the image (resolution) and how much sample can be shown (field of view). For example, densely packed individual cells often cannot be distinguished in an image that shows an entire mouse embryo.

To address this problem, Dr Brad Amos at the LMB developed a microscope lens called the Mesolens in 2009. The Mesolens can magnify samples by up to four times in much higher detail than conventional lenses with the same magnification. Since retirement in 2010, Dr Amos has been working part-time in the University of Strathclyde to test the Mesolens through a technique called confocal microscopy, which can reconstruct the three-dimensional structure of a sample by assembling images from different layers. After carefully analysing performance data and images from biological specimens, the team published their results in 2016.

The images developed through confocal Mesolens allowed a 12.5 day mouse embryo to be imaged in stunning detail. At about 5mm, these embryos are smaller than a single grain of rice. Because of the superior resolution of the Mesolens, the scientists were able image the whole embryo and then zoom in on single cells, heart muscle fibres and sub-cellular details, not just near the surface of the sample but throughout the depth of the embryo. 

A microscope image of a 12.5 day old mouse embryo using Mesolens confocal microscopy

As the researchers noted in their publication, “no existing microscope can show all of these features simultaneously in an intact mouse embryo in a single image. This development represents the most radical change in microscope objective design for over a century”.

The ability to view whole specimens in a single image could help researchers study many biological processes and will be invaluable in studying developmental biology. The Mesolens was made possible through combining skilled engineering and optical design, and the use of very precise components. Dr Amos’ expertise as a cell biologist who also designs optical instruments was invaluable to this project, and serves as a compelling example of interdisciplinary research. In 2009, Dr Amos launched a spin-out company called Mesolens Ltd to develop the Mesolens microscope and commercialise this valuable tool which has the potential to be used in many different applications.

Categories

  • Categories: Research
  • Health categories: Generic
  • Locations: Cambridge
  • Type: Impact story, Success story