Researchers collaborate with Nobel winner
02/09/15 Portland, Ore.
Nobel Award winner Eric Betzig has collaborated for years and published multiple papers with Jim Galbraith, Ph.D., an associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Cathy Galbraith, Ph.D., also an associate professor of biomedical engineering.
For more than 150 years, scientists believed they would never see objects smaller than half a wavelength of light with a light microscope. Researchers were able to see the internal organelles of cells, but not individual molecules or molecular interactions. In the fall of 2014, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to a trio of researchers who broke that barrier. The team who helped apply this breakthrough to the tools used for scientific discovery are now part of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.
The prestigious award went to William E. Moerner, Stefan Hell and Eric Betzig. Betzig has collaborated for years and published multiple papers with Jim Galbraith, Ph.D., an associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Cathy Galbraith, Ph.D., also an associate professor of biomedical engineering. Both are investigators with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.
The scientists first connected in 2007. Betzig had had just developed photo-activated localization microscopy (PALM), the technique for which he would eventually win the Nobel Prize. PALM randomly controls the on-off switch of fluorescently-labeled molecules to determine their position within 20 nanometers, which is 10 times the resolution of a conventional light microscope. The Galbraiths, meanwhile, were grappling with how to find a way to visualize the molecular interactions of the new motility mechanisms they uncovered. At the time, Betzig was seeking out ways to apply his technology to biology, so he reached out to the Galbraiths; the trio then started working together.
Together they developed the tools to use PALM to look at molecular interactions and the dynamic molecular rearrangements of nanoscale cellular architecture.
The Galbraiths have been concentrating on applying super-resolution microscopy to studying cancer since joining OHSU and the Knight Cancer Institute in 2013. “We look at single adhesion receptor molecules to predict where the cell is going to move,” Jim Galbraith said. “Before super-resolution microscopy, we could look in a microscope and see a cell move, and only wonder how it did that. With super-resolution microscopy we are able to understand not only how cells move, but why some cells move differently.”
When the Nobel Prizes were awarded in October, the Galbraiths were elated to see a close collaborator receive such a high honor. “Eric is a brilliant, driven man, whose success is built on confidence, unorthodox approaches and a willingness to take scientific risks,” Cathy Galbraith said. She added that they look forward to continuing to work with Betzig.