For Hub City Times
MARSHFIELD — Working with the deadly Ebola virus, U.S. Army scientists have found a safer, faster way to handle and prepare hazardous research specimens using patented technology from Microscopy Innovations, a Marshfield-based biotechnology tools firm.
Researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Md., handle dangerous viruses in maximum containment Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) laboratories wearing gloves and biohazard suits. The most dangerous pathogens, such as Ebola, are restricted to BSL-4 facilities. Virus specimens are placed on tiny electron microscope “grids” for viewing. The fragile copper grids are just 3 millimeters in diameter and must be handled with needle-sharp forceps.
The challenge was that USAMRIID technicians wearing bulky, pressurized suits and the required double gloves found handling grids to be slow and difficult. In fact, about 80 percent of the grids were damaged in the process.
USAMRIID senior electron microscopy scientist Dr. Mei Sun approached Microscopy Innovations about using the company’s mPrep/g capsules to handle and process grids containing Ebola virus specimens. By preloading empty grids into the patented capsules before entering the restricted BSL-4 area, technicians eliminate the need for direct grid handling while wearing the full safety suits.
Microscopy Innovations President and CEO Mark Nelson said Sun was “confronting the fact that her technicians wearing the bunny suits, as they like to say, … were mashing these grids.”
“We were looking for a better way to prepare grids,” said Sun. Sun researches the Ebola virus using an electron microscope, which allows her and her team to directly observe the virus ultrastructure and offers up to 300 times the magnification that light microscopes deliver.
“Fundamentally at the research end and trying to do something significant about it (Ebola), you really need to understand how this virus might mutate or not. You know, what are the transmission mechanisms?” said Nelson. “Seeing the ultrastructure through electron microscopy is an important tool.”
Dr. Steven Goodman, Microscopy’s chief scientific officer, proposed a protocol that would allow safe, easy handling of the grids. In tests of the new method in the BSL-4 facility, USAMRIID technicians reported that grid failure rates dropped to almost zero.
“The technicians are thrilled with the new handling method,” said USAMRIID electron microscopist Kathleen Kuehl.
“Our ‘finger-scale’ handling of grids in mPrep capsules allowed technicians to leave the sharp forceps behind and accelerate their grid handling,” Goodman said. “We’re grateful that USAMRIID is always seeking new tools for scientific discovery and that we were able to help.”
Goodman said he expects the collaboration could lead to further applications of the mPrep method by researchers handling a broad array of viruses in BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories.
Nelson, who was formerly a co-owner and vice president of sales and marketing of Nelson-Jameson Inc., said he started Microscopy because he wanted a new entrepreneurial opportunity.
“I really like this business because it’s what we call a platform technology. That is it’s not one test for one disease,” Nelson said. “Microscopy is used in a whole bunch of situations, and our technology — our four U.S. patents and two Japanese patents and European patents — cover not only electron microscopy applications but light microscopy applications.”
To learn more about Microscopy Innovations LLC, visit microscopyinnovations.com/Home.php.