Inside Salk - May 2011 - page 8

At the center’s opening in February,
physicist-turned-neuroscientist
Axel Nimmerjahn
demonstrated an advancedmicroscopic tool that
exemplifies the kind of transformative technology
the faculty labs will bring to the newWaitt Center:
aminiature epifluorescencemicroscope, no bigger
than a penny, andweighing the equivalent of
a paperclip. Mounted on amouse’s head, it
enabled and produced the first-ever optical
recordings of brain cells functioning in freely
behavingmammals.
“This type of technology represents the ideal
of theWaitt AdvancedBiophotonics Center,”
says Nimmerjahn, assistant professor in the
Waitt Center and holder of the Richard AllanBarry
Developmental Chair. “By putting new tools into
the hands of researchers, it allows them to directly
address longstanding questions they have been
unable to answer before.”
Nimmerjahn, who joined the Salk Institute last
November, began creatingminiaturemicroscopes
in graduate school at theMax Planck Institute for
Medical Research inHeidelberg, Germany, and
since then has used this and other technology for
his research into how glial cells, which constitute
themajority of human brain cells, interact with
neurons and other cells. Once thought to play
only a passive, supportive role, glia are now known
to be critically involved in the healthy brain’s
function. Additionally, they playmajor roles in
disease onset, progression and regeneration.
In theWaitt Center, he will continue pursu-
ing his research into the function of glial cells
while also developing new technologies such as
miniature microscopy that can be applied to
other areas of biological research. “The Advanced
Biophotonics Center, along with the remarkable
environment of the Salk, is themain reason I
decided to come here,” he says. “The opportuni-
ties are extraordinary.”
Graduate student Kristen Espantman and postdoctoral researcher AnthonyCesare study ahigh-resolution image of a virus-infectedcell.
Axel Nimmerjahn
By putting new tools into the hands of researchers,
it allows them to directly address longstanding
questions they have been unable to answer before.
Axel Nimmerjahn
: Microscopy inminiature
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