Friday, 11 July 2014

New microscope in development

Scientists rely heavily on incubators and microscopes. With this in mind the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT has come up with a novel solution that combines the functions of both these tools in a compact and extremely small-scale system. It is ideally suited for time-lapse examination over a number of weeks and for automatic observation of cell cultures. The incubator microscope is no bigger than a soda can and costs 30 times less than buying an incubator and a microscope separately. It will be on display for the first time at MEDTEC in Stuttgart.

Cultivating human and animal cells requires parameters such as temperature and humidity to be specified with absolute precision and maintained at an even level over long periods of time. Time-lapse observation over a period of some weeks can be particularly valuable, since a lot happens in that time in terms of cell reproduction and differentiation. Until now, the usual technique to make these sorts of observations has been to use small incubators in combination with conventional microscopes. This takes up about one square meter of space, making operating several such systems alongside each other an inefficient process. There is a need for innovative solutions that will significantly reduce the space needed and the costs involved -- without compromising the quality of the cultivation and of the microscope images recorded.

The new technology includes a small-scale incubation chamber and control electronics to ensure defined cell culture parameters. Cells grow on the floor of the miniaturized incubation chamber on a thin, replaceable glass plate and are supplied with a constant stream of nutrients. The only parameters that need to be kept constant within the incubator are the temperature and the nutrient supply flow rate. All in all, the small-scale incubator microscope is extremely good value and allows for many units to be operated in parallel in a very compact space. And despite its space-saving design, the system yields images that are almost as good as those of the big microscopes.

Posted by Tim Sandle