Bioimaging Equipment: It’s Here!

Fall 2011

Bioimaging Equipment Here - Nancy Ford - Ed Putnins

Dr. Edward Putnins (2nd L) and Nancy Ford (L) talk with construction crew in the space slated for the Centre for High-Throughput Phenogenomics. This more central location on campus, in the new Pharmaceutical Sciences building, will enhance research and cross-discipline collaborations in the areas of hard tissue development and degradation, and will support the development of novel treatment approaches utilizing new drug therapies.

Ask Dr. Edward Putnins, professor and associate dean of Research, Graduate and Postgraduate Studies, what $3.5 million can buy, and he will tell you precisely: a MALDI LTQ Orbitrap tandem mass spectrometer, an optical projection tomography (OPT) scanner, a Leica white light confocal microscope, and a Helios 650 dual beam scanning electron microscope. This equipment, the bulk of imaging infrastructure for the Centre for High-Throughput Phenogenomics, has begun arriving at Dentistry.

Putnins and other co-applicants at UBC were awarded a multi-million dollar government grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund to expand Dentistry’s bioimaging facility and upgrade its vastly outdated ultramicrotomy, transmission and scanning electron microscopy systems. (See Impressions, fall 2009.)

The inconvenience of stepping around large wood packing crates containing the sensitive, precision-based equipment from Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States has been minor compared to the huge boost this equipment gives to dentistry, medicine, science and engineering researchers at UBC and across Canada and the western United States.

“The Helios 650 uses EDAX [energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy] secondary electron detector systems, which allow us to analyze the elemental composition of small areas of the sample. For example, we can look at the mineral composition in a particular part of a tooth or bone sample, and predict the elemental properties of that part of the structure,” explains Putnins of the scanning electron microscope built in the Czech Republic. “There is no other system like this in Canada or on the west coast of the United States.” A core component of the bioimaging facility, the Helios 650 will operate 24 hours per day, seven days per week. This will enable faster research results, accelerating the rate at which disease regulators can be examined and potential therapies evaluated.

Currently installed in a temporary location in the John B. Macdonald Building, the equipment will be moved to its final home in 2012. The new bioimaging facility—an environment purpose-built to accommodate the scientific functions and supported by high-volume data storage and analysis— is taking shape in the UBC Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences’ Centre for Drug Research and Development building now under construction. (See UBC Dentistry News, fall 2010.)

Bioimaging Equipment Here - Clive Roberts

Clive Roberts demonstrates the specimen drawer of the Helios 650, a dual beam scanning electron microscope. Repeated cycles of imaging and ion-beam cutting are used to reconstruct a 3D structure on the cellular and subcellular scale. His fi rst application of Helios 650 was to reconstruct the microstructure of dentin in various areas of the tooth, and to investigate 3D contacts between bone cells, interactions that are essential for maintaining healthy bone structure.

Behind the scenes, yet another aspect of the facility is being formulated. Nancy Ford, an assistant professor newly hired as the centre’s director to oversee the development of novel 3D analysis methodologies, and Clive Roberts, associate professor, are busy developing policies, procedures and a cost-recovery business model. The centre’s website,, will feature full descriptions of the equipment to help researchers with their imaging requirements, an online booking calendar for the equipment, and standard operating procedures for specimen preparation.

Putnins is proud of the awarded grant and of the centre’s cross-disciplinary approach and synergistic model. He anticipates not only UBC researchers, but those from other universities, institutions and private companies will reap the rewards of working with an advanced bioimaging facility in Canada. “We believe the greatest scientifi c advantages will occur through collaborations between scientists that cross traditional research boundaries but exhibit complementary expertise.”