A new laser microdissection system available to UAB researchers can improve the quality and specificity of molecular information scientists can glean from their animal models and tissue samples, says Andra Frost, director of the UAB Laser Microdissection Facility.

The new Zeiss PALM Microbeam instrument utilizes laser-cutting technology, allowing scientists to cut around cells of interest using a UV laser in histologic sections or cytologic samples. After cutting the desired sample, which scientists can outline on a computer screen, the laser catapults the selected cells into a microfuge tube.

“It’s very precise, and it’s especially useful for translational research or tissue-based research in understanding the molecular pathogenesis of disease,” Dr. Frost says. “You can isolate particular cells in diseased tissues and compare them with normal counterparts in non-diseased tissue.”

The new instrument is highly automated to increase the efficiency of the microdissection process, is less prone to contamination by unwanted cells than other microdissection systems and allows microdissection under fluorescence microscopy.

The PALM Microbeam recently was purchased by the Birmingham Veterans Administration Hospital and made available to selected VA investigators and UAB researchers through the VA’s Shared Equipment Evaluation Program (ShEEP).

“I’m very pleased we were able to accomplish this joint venture with the VA and selected UAB faculty,” says Marianne Egan, administrative officer at the VA.

The PALM Microbeam joins the Laser Capture Microdissection Pixell II system as the second of two microdissection instruments available to researchers on campus via the Laser Microdissection Facility. The Pixell II system uses laser-capture technology to extract cells of interest from tissue sections or cytologic samples. An infrared laser is used to adhere the specified cells to a thermoplastic film. As the film is lifted from the tissue sections, the adherent cells are removed from the section. The thermoplastic film is attached to clear plastic that functions as a microfuge tube cap.

Frost says samples can be taken from tissues or cytologic samples involved by any disease process, as well as live cells. The extracted cells can then be utilized for analyzing their DNA, RNA or protein content.  
Identifying molecular changes in cancer cells, in blood vessels involved by atherosclerosis or in individual neurons in degenerative diseases of the brain are just a few of the examples of the types of research the PALM Microbeam can be used to study.

With the PALM Microbeam, researchers can:
• Retrieve whole tissue regions
•?Selectively target and harvest thousands of cells or single cells from tissues
• Identify and retrieve individual cells from cytospins and smears
•?Isolate living cells from cell cultures

Natalya Frolova, a research associate, is available to assist researchers with the use of the instruments and prepare samples for microdissection.

For more information on the Laser Microdissection Facility or to schedule time to use the instruments, contact Frost at afrost@path.uab.edu or Frolova at nfrolova@path.uab.edu .