‘Game changer’ microscope in battle against disease now operational at ANSTO

University of Wollongong’s “game changer” microscope in the battle against disease started its working life on Thursday.

Australia’s most advanced and powerful microscope, capable of visualising down to the level of individual atoms, though for the time being is housed in a ‘‘world-class microscope facility’’ at Lucas Heights.

In a positive note, the partnership between UOW and ANSTO has allowed the Titan Krios to become operational and accessible to researchers almost two years before its final home is completed.

The three-metre tall, one tonne FEI ThermoFisher Titan Krios cryo-electron microscope will be housed in the purpose-designed Molecular Horizons Building on UOW’s Wollongong campus, when it is built.

But on Thursday, Senator Zed Seselja, the Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation, officially commissioned the Titan Krios during a ceremony at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) campus.

COLLABORATION: ANSTO chief executive officer Dr Adi Paterson and UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings.

COLLABORATION: ANSTO chief executive officer Dr Adi Paterson and UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings.

A cryogenic electron microscope, the Titan Krios lets scientists see the inner workings of human cells with unprecedented clarity, and will enable new ways of understanding and curing diseases such as motor neurone disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer, as well as tackling health challenges like antimicrobial resistance..

Molecular Horizons director, Distinguished Professor Antoine van Oijen, an ARC Laureate Fellow and a molecular life scientist of world renown, said the Titan Krios was a game changer in the battle against disease.

‘‘It allows us for the first time a window directly to see how these molecules of life work and that of course is a game changer in how we might develop new drugs and therapies,’’ Professor van Oijen said.

“The driving philosophy of Molecular Horizons is to use visualisation as an enabler for scientific discovery. Seeing is believing, after all.

‘‘One of the major challenges in the molecular life sciences is to understand the molecules and proteins involved in a disease at such a level of detail that we don’t have to find drugs by trial and error.

THUMBS UP: Professor Antoine van Oijen (far right). Picture: Adam McLean

THUMBS UP: Professor Antoine van Oijen (far right). Picture: Adam McLean

‘‘This is where the Titan Krios comes in. The molecular details it reveals are so small and precise it allows us to map out every nook and cranny of the surface of biological molecules such as proteins and DNA.’’

Housing the Titan Krios at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights facility meant scientists not just from UOW and ANSTO, but researchers from universities and other research institutions across Australia and around the world, could use Australia’s most advanced and powerful microscope now.

Prof Wellings said the commissioning of the Titan Krios was a significant step forward for Australian research and an exemplar of the benefits of taking a collaborative approach to scientific research.

‘‘The revolutionary technology we are commissioning today will accelerate research and discovery. It has the power to change lives. The Titan Krios will allow us to see things we have never seen before,’’ he said.

‘‘The university is appreciative of the long-standing partnership we have with ANSTO.’’

 This view was shared by Dr Paterson, who said that the state-of-the-art microscope would be very welcome at its new, albeit temporary home.

‘‘This is a great privilege for us and a true partnership with UOW,’’ he said.

‘‘Our type of new partnership recognises the big kit needs to have sound infrastructure around it. It also recognises that great partnerships lead to great science.

‘‘Without big infrastructure science starts to hollow out. Without big infrastructure and thought leadership from universities we wouldn’t be working on the best ideas.’’

Senator Zed Seselja said the commissioning of the Titan Krios marked the beginning of an exciting period in scientific research in Australia.

‘‘Technology such as the Titan Krios, together with the work of ANSTO and UOW, will provide benefits and opportunities for all Australians,’’ Senator Seselja said.