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SLU and WashU to Share Imaging Center, Invest in Powerful New Microscope

Saint Louis University and Washington University in St. Louis have signed an agreement that will allow SLU researchers to use the Washington University Center of Cellular Imaging (WUCCI). As a part of the collaboration, SLU will contribute $2.5 million toward the purchase of a new $5 million cryo-electron microscope (cryo-EM).

New Imaging Center

Michael Rau, research specialist at the WUCCI, and Enrico Di Cera, M.D., chairman of biochemistry and molecular biology at SLU, talk with James Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., director of the WUCCI. Photo by Matt Miller / Washington University in St. Louis.

Launched by Washington University in 2015, the WUCCI ranks among the best cellular imaging centers in the U.S. for the quality of its microscopes and the power of its computers. Scientists use the powerful imaging equipment to study cells, bacteria, viruses and molecules at higher resolutions than ever before.

The new agreement allows SLU researchers access to the cryo-EM for 15 years and access to other instruments not currently available at SLU for 10 years. SLU researchers will be able to use the WUCCI with the same priority, costs and technical assistance offered to WU faculty.

“This is an exciting partnership and an excellent investment for SLU,” said Ken Olliff, vice president for research at SLU. “Through this innovative collaboration with Washington University, researchers from across SLU will have access to the most advanced imaging technologies as well as a foundation for building new collaborations with Wash U colleagues.”

The new partnership is funded through the Doisy Fund for Biochemistry at SLU.

Such inventive collaborations are helping achieve the goals of Accelerating Excellence: The Campaign for Saint Louis University. This historic campaign aims to raise $500 million to enhance health sciences, scholarships, business education, athletics and academic excellence at SLU. By investing in up-to-date facilities and state-of-the art technology like the cryo-electron microscope, SLU seeks to accelerate discovery and enhance the University’s ability to compete for external funding across all health sciences schools and research divisions.

“The agreement complements and continues a decade-long investment of SLU’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in structural and computational biology,” said Enrico Di Cera, M.D., the Alice A. Doisy professor and chairman of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at SLU. “State-of-the-art technology, infrastructure, top-notch technical assistance and, most importantly, scientific interaction between SLU and Washington University faculty members will attract new talent and advance scientific discovery at both institutions.”

Leaders from both schools anticipate that the new agreement will lead to increased opportunities for scientific collaboration.

“I look forward to strengthening ties between our institutions,” said Jennifer K. Lodge, Ph.D., Washington University’s vice chancellor for research. “I believe that this arrangement will provide opportunities for collaborations that will lead to new insight and discoveries to advance human health.”

The WUCCI houses advanced X-ray, light and electron microscopes, including two-photon, super resolution and lightsheet microscopy and ultrastructural imaging.
The newly purchased cryo-EM, which will arrive later in 2020, will complement the Center’s existing cryo-EM and will cut wait times for researchers to use the equipment.

“The new cryo-EM allows us to expand the range of imaging services that we offer, which will allow researchers to investigate a wider range of scientific questions,” said James Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., director of the Center for Cellular Imaging. “The more details we’re able to observe and understand, the greater the potential for advancing medicine.”

Biochemistry itself is moving into a new era, Di Cera says, thanks in large part to cryo technology. “A revolution is happening in structural biology,” Di Cera said. “The people who introduced cryo technology received the Nobel Prize a few years ago. We can finally elucidate the structure of big macromolecular assemblies, like the ribosome.

“I am particularly pleased that this key investment was made possible by a strategic use of the Doisy Fund in Biochemistry. It fits perfectly the original intent of Edward Doisy and honors his legacy of scientific excellence."