Munir RahimBiology professor Munir Rahim is leading a research team analyzing swabs taken from patients infected with COVID-19 for proteins released by immune cells in the lungs. The proteins could offer early warning that patients could suffer severe respiratory complications.

Specialized instrument to enable tracking of tumours

UWindsor researchers will soon be able to track and precisely measure cancerous tumours in real time.

Biomedical sciences professor Munir Rahim received a $150,000 NSERC RTI grant, along with a $20,000 UWindsor Research Stimulus grant and $5,000 in funding from the Department of Biomedical Sciences, to purchase a specialized instrument capable of high-resolution imaging by luminescence or fluorescence inside (in vivo) or outside (ex vivo) of an organism.

“This would be the first in vivo imaging machine of its kind in Windsor-Essex,” says Dr. Rahim. “Having an imager that can track  fluorescent and luminescent cells is absolutely essential to the success of many research and training programs at UWindsor — from cancer and stem-cell research to monitoring drug delivery.”

The imager allows researchers to monitor multiple whole, living animals and plants as well as tissue. The researchers can tag specific cells with a fluorescent or luminescent dye. This makes the cells fluoresce, or light up, so they can be monitored at the cellular level, in real-time, in a range of colours.

Rahim says the non-invasive in vivo imaging lets him visualize cellular functions that would ordinarily be impossible to see. His research focuses on developing immune therapy by looking at how immune cells can recognise cells that are cancerous or that have been infected with viruses. He says this instrument will be most helpful in his cancer research program where he investigates ways to make tumours more visible to the immune system.

“Previously we had to use a caliper to manually measure a tumour. This method can be error-prone and tedious, and it was limited to tumours visible to the naked eye,” says Rahim. “Use of fluorescence and luminescence imaging allows us to label and track cells internally, make far more precise measurements, see how fast a tumour is growing, and follow the growth of that tumour over time.”

The instrument will benefit diverse areas of scientific research across campus. Rahim says it will prove most beneficial to stem-cell and cancer researchers, along with those studying drug delivery.

“Many of us were limited without an instrument like this one, especially those of us studying cancers as well as the biochemists who need to accurately track the precise path a drug takes after injection using various targeted drug delivery systems — this is going to be very useful for a lot of us.”

Further down the line, it could also prove useful to computer science, physics, and chemistry research as well. This equipment will enable comparative studies for development of new and improved imaging equipment in the Faculty of Engineering.

“I am grateful for the support we’ve received from the University in the form of a Research Stimulus Fund, my co-applicants who have supported this application, and many researchers who have shown interest in the machine,” says Rahim. “It is really a collective effort to acquire this instrument.”

—Sara Elliott