Our research group's mission is to understand how the brain functions from the level of neuronal networks, all the way down to the synapse level. To be at the forefront of research, it has been essential to make use of cutting edge equipment which is not always possible to acquire commercially. Therefore, in collaboration with the VU Electronics and Mechanics workshops we took upon the task of developing laser scanning microscopy instrumentation and software upon the receipt of two grants from NWO Middelgroot and ERC Proof of Concept that were awarded to Prof. Huib Mansvelder. Although both workshops have been constantly supporting our research efforts with smaller projects, this was probably the first time such major collaborative effort was undertaken.
Above: combination of recording electrical activity with electrodes and ion changes with fluorescent dyes. recorded neuron (green), recorded astrocyte (yellow) and other astrocytes (Red)
Over a period of more than 5 years several devices have been developed and in one case the production license has been sold to a company while in another, the designs have been published in a peer reviewed optics journal. Among the developments are:
- A two photon laser scanning microscope with optimized fluorescence collection optics suitable for in vivo experimentation (Negrean and Mansvelder, Biomedical Optics Express 2014, "Optimal lens design and use in laser-scanning microscopy").
- Photon counting instrumentation to improve two-photon laser scanning fluorescence signal.
- A galvanometric laser photostimulation system (hardware and software) for activating neurons that has been licensed to Scientifica UK.
- Software (DAQLab) to steer the two-photon laser scanning microscope and to control data acquisition instrumentation.
We demonstrated that with the above approach we were not only able to benefit from cutting edge equipment tailored to our needs, but also generated revenue by selling our designs and save up essential research funds by re-using in-house designs instead of acquiring them commercially. This approach also cuts down on servicing costs and time since both workshops are familiar with the instrumentation and can remedy potential issues much faster. Without the high level of professionalism and technical expertise of both the Electronics and Mechanics Workshops at the VU University, none of the above achievements would have been possible, and I am indebted and grateful to have had the chance of working together. Thank you again for the great time at the VU!