Live Cell Imaging Facility in Flemingsberg
The Live Cell Imaging Facility (LCI) is a core facility with state-of-the-art light microscopy systems located in Novum, Flemingsberg, at the Karolinska Institutet Department of Biosciences and Nutrition. In 2014 the LCI facility was awarded the Nikon Center of Excellence label, making it one of eight centers in Europe and one of fifteen in the world. Sylvie Le Guyader is the manager of LCI and we had a brief chat with her about imaging in general and more specifically about the LCI facility.
Live cell imaging seems like a fairly narrow field, in what areas do you see that LCI can provide additional value from a scientific point of view?
All our systems can image fixed samples as well as live samples. Our name points to the fact that all our systems are equipped for long term imaging of live samples but fixed samples are also imaged routinely at the facility.
Light microscopy is used by most researchers at some point in their career, regardless of the field the work in, and often it is one of their main investigation tools. They use it to check that the genetic modification of a tissue has worked, to investigate the localization of specific proteins or dyes, the follow their interaction with other compounds, to visualize highly specific events like the phosphorylation of a protein, to monitor migrating cells or characterize cells in tissues ... Our imagination is the limit! Light microscopy is also used daily in the clinic to assess the extent or the genetic characteristics of a cancer for example.
Actually there are only few domains of biological research which do not use light microscopy.
What are the requirement to use the LCI facility?
Anyone is welcome to join the facility. Just contact us so that we can see how we can help you. We have a special financial model here: there is no hourly fee but only a yearly fee and it is cheap: only 15,000 sek currently! This facility is not run on collaboration-basis simply because we do not have enough staff for this. Instead we train researchers to do the imaging themselves. We accompany them through the experimental design, the imaging process and the image analysis.
The LCI facility has a very strong emphasis on education. We believe that it is to everyone’s interest that our users know precisely what they are doing and why, which artefacts to watch out for, how to avoid them, how to interpret their data… Journals are increasingly demanding with microscopy data nowadays. Too many articles containing images with artefacts have been published in the past.
The aim of the LCI facility is 2-fold:
-Give researchers access to top-of-the-line light microscopes in perfect conditions
-Provide researchers with the expertise necessary to design their microscopy experiment as well as analyse the data they acquire.
To reach our first aim, we have set up a rigorous routine to check our microscopes. We try our best to discover problems before our users even notice them. We follow the technical development in the field as well as the need of our users. For the second aim, we offer an extensive training of 5 half-days packed within one week. This gives our users a very solid microscopy knowledge that they will use at our facility and will take with them when they move on to other institute. Before the training we often have a strong input in the sample and experimental design. During the training we get them learn all the trick of hardware and software. There is no such thing as typical parameters in microscopy. It all depends on what the scientific question is.
Additionally, we offer a yearly 2-week course for PhD students, postdocs or any researchers. This covers theory and practice. Unlike for our training, the aim of the course is not to train them to use our systems. Instead we want to give them all the tools so they can better use their own microscope back in their lab.
We also run several workshops per year with specific topics like live cell imaging, thick sample imaging, sample preparation tips and tricks... Anyone is welcome to join! You can have a look at our website and register to get our newsletter.
And now we even offer a new service to help you and your colleagues improve your microscopy skills at your department. For example if you feel that your department’s microscope is misused and that people are a bit lost and could do with some help when it comes to microscopy, we can tailor-make a one day workshop, come to your department, give presentations in the morning and train people on your microscopes in the afternoon, using their own samples so they get the best out of the workshop. This can often give the microscope a second life and researchers get truckloads of tips on how to improve their sample and their experimental setup!
As a core facility you are also interested in industrial collaborations, is there an interest from the industry in this regard?
The fact that we are Nikon Center of Excellence shows that we love to collaborate more with the industry. Our collaboration with Nikon is very fruitful. I hope Nikon would agree with me!
Pharmaceutical companies are no different from the academy. They also need to gain the expertise to be able to collect meaningful data. And they must have access to equipment that is up-to-date and in great condition. This is exactly what we offer. I find it promising that pharmaceutical companies are interested in using our services even though we only opened to everyone outside our department less than 1.5 years ago. We have users from large pharmaceutical companies and from tiny biotech companies. I really do not see any difference. We are all researchers looking to answer scientific questions.
Our Nikon systems have a special software module that allows us to design complex experiments and for example to include on-the-fly image analysis or to run several rounds of imaging with a pre-screen, an analysis of the images to find the area or the event of interest (eg dividing cells) then a second round of imaging only at the area of interest. This works a charm for high-content imaging and allows us to run screens where at the end we only have images of the area of interest. This it much easier to understand and analyse the data.
How has the Nikon Center of Excellence award affected LCI?
The Nikon Center of excellence is not just a label. It is a daily dialog with Nikon Europe. We help them troubleshoot their software and hardware. We get extra super service from their wonderful and very knowledgeable team. We also get extra recognition internationally through them but also through a lot of networking with other light microscopy facilities across the planet at meetings, on forums… Forming a network is key to getting help and helping others. This also means that when one of our users has a specific problem, we can quickly put them in contact with other microscopist experienced in solving that problem. This is invaluable. In these times of electronic communication, we should not need to reinvent the wheel!
We are lucky that some microscopy equipment manufacturers want to be present on our platform so that they locate their devices here for a while. I take it as a sign that they believe in us!
In your view what are the largest challenges and opportunities as a core facility?
The main problem is the low flow of communication between researchers which is rather strange considering the amazing number of tools we have to communicate. But somehow when someone sees that their images look strange or that they are not conclusive, they do not always know who to turn to. It is no coincidence that all microscopes are in the same room at the LCI facility: we need people to see each other, recognize each other’s face, before they start talking to each other. We also have email addresses to make it easy for one user to ask advice or reagents to all the others. I would like to extend this communication platform beyond our users so that all microscopists in Sweden could help each other troubleshoot their microscopy set up. I also feed in some fresh tips and tricks through our quarterly newsletter. There we announce a new reagent that can be used in an interesting way, a new device to make pattern on a microscopy dish or we announce a course in Uppsala or at Stockholm University. Competition is not the way to go. We must collaborate more.
What is the most rewarding in your work?
Being able to help people is mind-blowingly rewarding. We can help them skip months of head banging! This is the best of all. It is also nice to be given the freedom to set standards high and live up to them. We see every day the results of our efforts in keeping the level high. I personally have a very strong team feeling at the LCI facility, both within the LCI staff but also with the users. We work as a team to help them solve their problem. It is pure fun!
Why did you end up in Stockholm?
I started my PhD in Germany, at the Max Planck Institute in Tuebingen. I joined the lab with this greeting: ‘I warn you that we are about to move and we do not know yet where. It will be the UK, South Africa or Singapore.’ I said I was up to the gamble and ended up spending 7 years in Singapore, for my PhD then a postdoc. I worked on Developmental neuroscience and got more and more involved in microscopy. I then moved to Sweden for a postdoc in the lab of Staffan Strömblad who is also the director of our facility. After 2 years I started setting up the facility and here I am! We are now 3 busy bees in the team.