RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has received €1.2m in funding from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) to develop a high-resolution imaging system for single-cell analysis.

The new system will allow researchers to scan cells and tissues and identify objects of interest with real-time image processing, which will trigger super-resolution imaging or laser microdissection and capture.

This will provide new information on the molecular make-up of individual cells, which will help enable the development of personalised medicine as well as novel diagnostics, therapeutics and biomaterials.
Prof Jochen Prehn, head of the Department of Physiology and Medical Physics at RCSI, said this marks a “milestone” for future single-cell analysis in Ireland.

“Without the right instruments, conducting cellular research can be like trying to perform surgery while blindfold,” he said.

“The new equipment will allow us to see cells in real time and then analyse these through next-generation sequencing, which will help us increase our understanding of biological mechanisms at both cellular and tissue level.”

Prehn led the funding application along with Dr Heiko Düssmann from RCSI. The project was also supported by researchers from institutions across the country, as well as pharmaceutical industry partners involved in the FutureNeuro Centre at RCSI.

Prof Fergal O’Brien, RCSI’s director of research and innovation, said the project will open the door to new scientific discoveries for researchers in Ireland.

“The funding will make it possible for researchers to image any biological sample of interest in 3D, which will be hugely beneficial in developing new biomaterials and therapeutics,” he said. “I am confident that this fundamental science will lead to a variety of discoveries that will ultimately benefit the health of patients.”

The funding is part of the SFI Infrastructure programme, which aims to build and sustain Ireland’s research infrastructure capacity. SFI’s Dr Ruth Freeman said supporting high quality research is essential for enhancing public services.

“As well as helping to attract, train and retain top research talent, improving such research assets will also lead to positive societal impacts and improved health outcomes in Ireland,” she added.

Jenny Darmody

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