York University invests in life sciences research

York University has strengthened its commitment to research in the life sciences by investing more than $5 million for the procurement of high-tech research support tools. The equipment will support advanced research in the Faculty of Science & Engineering and the Faculty of Health.

“This unique investment demonstrates the bold new vision for life sciences research at York University and asserts our role as a world-class research hub through a significant expansion of York’s research infrastructure,” said Faculty of Science & Engineering Dean Janusz Kozinski (right).

“Faculty of Health research addresses health and human science at all levels – molecular to global – and builds on disciplinary depth and interdisciplinary breadth,” said Faculty of Health Dean Harvey Skinner (left). “Being part of York’s renewed commitment to research in life sciences ably facilitates our goals.”

Kozinski, in partnership with Skinner and the chairs of the Departments of Biology and Chemistry and the School of Kinesiology & Health Science, were part of a committee to coordinate the selection of the new equipment.

In total, nine research tools will be acquired, and will play an integral role in the creation of two new multi-user research hubs – the Biomedical Imaging Facility and the Bioanalytical Facility. Once completed, these facilities will be among the most innovative and unique in Canada, with equipment for advanced biomedical imaging, electrophysiology, cellular imaging and bioanalysis. They will be the nerve centre of the Life Sciences building’s fourth-floor research hub.

The five support tools to be acquired for the Biomedical Imaging Facility are described below.

The Multiphoton Imaging System will enable researchers to investigate aspects of cell biology in much greater detail than before. It will give them the ability to visualize – in real time – dynamic biological processes in live cells, tissues, organs and organisms.

The dual-beam Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) will be one of two in Canada. It gives researchers access to structural, morphological and chemical information on thin film materials, which are covered hard samples that include metal and oxide films and have applications in magnetic sensors and solar cells. Soft materials which are based on biological building blocks such as proteins and peptides can also be assessed with the SEM. This versatile instrument will benefit researchers in the Faculties of Health and Science & Engineering.

The Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorter (FACS) is also a versatile tool, and its superior capabilities will be useful for research in cellular and molecular biology. The FACS system will help to accelerate the research of York faculty members who focus on cancer, biomarker discovery, diabetes, obesity, stem cell biology, immunology and cardiovascular research.

The Scanning Ion-selective Electrode Technique (SIET) and Scanning Vibrating Electrode Technique (SVET) system will allow researchers to measure absolute concentration of ions and molecules including their flow and direction of movement. These techniques have a wide array of applications including research into how fish cope with environmental changes, and how insect populations react to climate change factors.

The Spinning Disk Confocal System is an optical imaging device that lets researchers reconstruct three-dimensional images of specimens in real time with a very high degree of optical resolution and contrast.

The four support tools to be acquired for the Bioanalytical Facility are described below.

The High Resolution Mass Spectrometer is a highly sensitive tool that will enable state-of-the-art protein identification and characterization. This holds promise for breakthroughs in the characterization and early detection of many human diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. This instrument will not only facilitate the identification of complex mixtures of proteins and peptides, but will also enable the identification of posttranslational modifications (PTMs) and the mapping of these sites on targeted proteins. Phosphorylation is one of nature’s most abundant PTMs, which act as switches to activate and inactivate protein functions. Thus, this instrument will benefit life and health scientists, and all researchers interested in developing diagnostic and prognostic tools and methods.

A current research objective at York is to study how protein-protein and protein-DNA interactions affect basic signalling processes in the cell. In the most general sense, many cancers and other diseases are a product of cell signalling being misregulated. The 700MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer will enable various research groups to study biopolymers, including proteins, DNA and RNA, at a much higher level of detail and sensitivity than is currently possible. The ability to study large molecule/small molecule interactions is also central to the development of molecular probes to study biological pathways – the starting point to the potential development of small-molecule therapeutics (i.e. new drug candidates).

The Peptide Spot Synthesizer is an instrument used to generate peptide arrays (600-1200 peptides) on a single membrane or slide. Peptide arrays are a powerful tool with multiple applications including the detection of protein interaction partners, analysis of gene expression in various organisms and the development of new biomarkers.

The microRaman-AFM-FTIR will allow researchers to perform for the first time, real-time, simultaneous observations and measurements of phase properties, structural growth/decay and chemical interactions. It will also be the only experimental system in Canada capable of simultaneous quantitative mapping in the leading-edge Tip-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (TERS) mode. Currently only four labs worldwide conduct TERS measurements.