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A multidisciplinary approach and a new field help to understand cell behavior

The days of researching cell behavior by using the human eye to look at images from light and fluorescence microscopes have gone. Microscopy has now reached the edge at which it cuts into chemistry, physics and mathematics, and a new field is emerging at the confluence. Called "quantitative bioimaging," this new field is transforming how scientists study fundamental questions of cell behavior.

To explore how modern researchers study cell behavior and how the emerging field of quantitative bioimaging is changing their methods and perceptions, researchers at University of New Mexico and Sandia National Laboratories are organizing an international scientific conference on cell behavior. Entitled "Understanding Cell Behavior through Single Cell and Single Molecule Biology," the conference will run from January 10 through 12, 2013 in the Centennial Engineering Center on the UNM campus. It may be the first time that scientists from around the globe gather to explicitly share research discoveries about fundamental biological questions and, in the same meeting, to explore new areas in computational imaging and image interpretation.

The conference will begin with a cell biology symposium featuring local, national and international speakers. "Biologists can now learn what single molecules are doing on cells," says Janet Oliver, PhD, Associate Director for Research at the UNM Cancer Center, Director of the New Mexico Center for Spatiotemporal Modeling, and Director of the New Mexico Cancer Nanotechnology Training Center. "The powerful new fluorescence microscopes we use in combination with new biological labels light up specific molecules. State-of-the-art microfluidics devices allow us to precisely control cellular conditions," she says. "And with advanced computing, we can extract real time information."

For example, Diane Lidke, PhD, UNM Associate Professor of Pathology, studies how cancer can develop from dysregulated signaling through the family of epidermal growth factor receptors that is, how a cellular chemical chain reaction goes awry to create cancer. To answer this fundamental question, Dr. Lidke stimulates cells at precise times and in a precise order using tiny chambers and pumps developed by Sandia National Labs' microfluidics teams. She then uses newly-developed imaging technologies, such as hyperspectral microscopy and super-resolution microscopy, to look at particular molecules within the stimulated cells.

These new technologies use cutting-edge physics, chemistry, engineering and mathematics to produce and analyze images but they also create a previously unknown problem. "These imaging technologies are generating vast amounts of data," says Dr. Oliver. "The bottleneck now is the image analysis. Microscopists are generating so much data that they must use entirely new analysis techniques." So the second part of the conference is a series of interactive sessions led by physicists, mathematicians and engineers to advance the fields of data capture, large dataset analysis, and imaging data analysis. The scientists will share ideas about ways to organize the overwhelmingly large sets of data and to distill important information from them.

"The partnership between Sandia National Labs and the UNM Cancer Center has really helped to bring this conference together," says Dr. Oliver. "We're thrilled to engage physical scientists and engineers in answering biological questions about cancer."

Contact: Janet Oliver
University of New Mexico Cancer Center

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