Imaging the Beating Heart in Zebrafish

2018 has been a busy year so far (and I expect it will stay that way) but I’ve finally made time to write another blog post (and also to move my blog into my personal website). Given that so far this year I’ve spoken about my current research – imaging the beating zebrafish heart – to audiences of academics, the public & students I thought it was about time to do a blog post summarising said research. Hopefully this short post will provide you with an idea of what we’re trying to achieve, why and how we’re going about it (although I’ve kept off too much detail for now).

The Challenge of a Beating Heart

Here at the University of Glasgow I am working with Dr Jonathan Taylor on techniques for imaging the living, beating heart in zebrafish. This work is part of a British Heart Foundation funded collaboration between us and a team of biologists at the University of Edinburgh. Our collaborators are interested in quantifying how the heart responds to injury, which in turn can be used to develop drugs that improve the natural injury response. Eventually, the fundamental research being carried out in the zebrafish can be translated to other model organisms and may, after much validation, be trialled in humans. At a conference I attended earlier in the year, one speaker gave the (uncited) statistic that 22 out of 24 drugs developed in the zebrafish have been successfully translated to humans despite the differences between a fish heart and a human heart.

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Better Imaging of Living Animals and the 3Rs

Recently, I was explaining my research to another academic from a different field. I was describing how, when imaging living animals under the microscope, we strive to keep laser power levels to the minimum needed. The question I got in return was: “Is that for the animal’s sake or for the imaging?”. And of course the answer is both – in general, I find that good science and better microscopy align very well with performing more humane animal research.

This article is about how researchers are working to improve animal research by minimising numbers used, sharing animals and data and refining experimental procedures.  This is not an article on whether or not animal experimentation should or should not be done; that is a matter of personal ethics. However, should you be interested in the rules and regulations surrounding animal research in the UK, I would suggest you start with Understanding Animal Research [1] and the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (the NC3RS) [2].

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Let There be Light… but Not Too Much… Phototoxicity in Microscopy

Light is an Essential Aspect of Microscopy

An essential aspect to microscopy is light. Early microscopes used ambient light or used mirrors to reflect light, either from the sun or a candle, onto the sample of interest. With the inventions [1] of the electric light bulb additional, artificial light sources could be used and the light from lamps could be focussed onto samples with much greater control.

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Microscopes on Your Mobile Phone

Many modern microscopes can be large, highly technical and expensive pieces of equipment. This is most evidenced when you consider that, when funding such equipment at UK universities and research institutes, many funding bodies stipulate a requirement for sharing across multiple research groups or institutes. However, as developers of new microscopy technology a focus on such fancy and costly microscopes should not be at the detriment of the continued research into miniaturisation, cheaper manufacturing and improved transportable microscopes.

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