Leica Microscope

In May 2013, the CIKA coach drive provided funding for the purchase of a Leica M165FA fluorescence microscope and accessories. Its use can be explained as follows.

Solid tumours arise from the abnormal growth and distribution of cells that appear very similar to normal cells within the same tissue. One of the very significant challenges in solid tumour research is being able to identify which cells are going to form a tumour before they have grown enough to become dangerous. Researchers have identified a range of proteins that are produced by the tumour cells but not by the normal cells. These proteins cannot be seen with the naked eye but can be seen using special microscope-based techniques that use very precise wavelengths of light. This technique, known as fluorescence microscopy, allows researchers to peer into the tissue to see the growing tumour cells and understand more about how they interact with each other and the surrounding normal tissue.

This specialized technique requires state of the art microscopes and dedicated software. The Leica M165FA fluorescence microscope is fully automated allowing a very high degree of accuracy when imaging whole tumours and tumour derived cells. The software that controls the microscope allows live cells to be viewed in real time as they interact with each other and these interactions can be filmed to allow researchers to examine the abnormal behaviour of tumour cells in very great detail.

This technology allows researchers to see tumours in ways not previously possible and directly contributes to understanding how to stop tumours growing before they can do harm.

Anna Czajko demonstrates the use of the microscope.

It was very quickly put into action and in November we received the following report on its use to examine the morphology of cells derived from tumour biopsies.

The Leica microscope provides the best resolution we have yet had for the visualisation and characterisation of tumour biopsies and derived cell lines. Already since acquiring this system we have been able to explore the phenotype (physical characteristics) of 20 tumour-derived cell lines obtained from culturing of primary CNS tumour biopsies at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Brisbane. Previous studies, carried out in our lab, had revealed a tremendous level of molecular differences between these cell lines and the primary tumour from which they were derived. This has profound implications for their future utility, given that the primary purpose of deriving such cell lines is to explore the potential of novel therapeutic agents to kill cancer cells.

Using the Leica microscope we have been able to demonstrate that 19/20 cell lines examined had cellular characteristics reminiscent of connective tissue (fibroblast) cells rather than neural type cell morphology. This would suggest that the cells grown in culture were actually derived from the supporting brain tissue (stromal cells) surrounding the tumour mass, rather than the tumour itself. This important piece of equipment has therefore helped us to understand why the majority of tumour-derived cell lines do not ‘look like’ primary tumour when examined at the molecular level. Importantly, it provides an additional screening step to ensure that we only test novel treatment approaches on those cell lines that really are tumour derived.

Our findings have been communicated to our colleagues In QLD who are modifying their protocols for cell line generation accordingly to try to prevent stromal cells from taking over the tumour culturing in future.

The significant benefits to date arising from the use of the new Leica microscope for children at the RCH (Melb) is that we have been able to develop novel protocols for cell line generation from RCH (Melb) tumour samples which will result in better quality pre clinical model cell lines for testing novel drug therapies on local samples.