Lowering the Barriers to Automated Microscopy

insights from industryDavid GoosenMechanical Product Designer & Microscope
Product Manager at Zaber Technologies

News-Medical Life Sciences spoke to Zaber Technologies at Neuroscience 2019 to find out how they are lowering the barriers of automated microscopy.

Can you give a brief overview of Zaber and the work you do?

Zaber designs and manufactures precision positioning devices that are affordable, integrated and easy to use. Our devices are used in many different applications and markets, such as photonics and optics, life sciences, microscopy, and industrial automation.

We have been designing, manufacturing, testing and refining our motorized stages and positioning devices since 2000.

Why were you exhibiting at Neuroscience this year? Will you be attending any other tradeshows in the next few months?

We've been exhibiting at Neuroscience for the past 5 years or so as we've found it to be a good place to connect with researchers looking to automate various parts of their experiments. It's also a good opportunity for us to learn about the latest areas in neuroscience research.

This year, we were especially excited to attend as we have just launched a motorized microscope, the MVR, and Neuroscience seemed like the perfect place to show it off.

The next shows we plan on attending are SLAS (Jan 25-29), SPIE Photonics West (Feb 4-6), MD&M West (Feb 11-13), and PittCon (March 1-5).

What are the features of your MVR inverted modular microscope?

The MVR is a motorized inverted microscope, designed for multi-channel fluorescence imaging. The biggest feature is the automation - the XY scanning stage, focus stage, and 6-position filter cube turret are all motorized, allowing automated whole slide imaging and well plate scanning. High precision, high-value positioning devices is where Zaber has built its business, and it's here where we think we can bring something to the microscopy market.

The focus stage is a linear motor, direct encoder device with a 20 nm minimum incremental move and 200 nm repeatability. It is really a high-performance stage and makes for very repeatable z-stacks and software auto-focusing.

For fluorescence illumination, we use a 3-channel, software controllable LED light source that provides high-intensity epi-illumination for fluorophores from DAPI to Cy5 (390 to 630 nm excitation wavelength). There are several LED wavelength options available to suit different applications and the LED modules can be changed by the customer on-site. The epi-illuminator mounts directly to the microscope body reducing the microscope footprint and increasing the efficiency of light transmission.

The MVR is designed as a set of interconnecting modules, making it easy to customize for different applications. For example, the tube lens and stage support brackets can be swapped to allow the MVR to use either Zeiss or Nikon objectives. The modular design also allows us to disassemble the microscope for safe shipping directly to customers. Setup is a simple matter of attaching the self-aligning modules together and can be performed in about an hour. We ship every microscope in a reusable, hard shell case, making it easy to store or transport if needed.

We manufacture every module of the MVR microscopes at our headquarters in Vancouver, BC. Our experience manufacturing high performance, affordable positioners and our vertically integrated approach allowed us to develop a microscope with top quality optics and automation that costs much less than the competition. A complete MVR microscope (excluding objectives and filter cubes) costs just under $27,000.

How do these features give the MVR a competitive advantage over anything else on the market?

With the MVR, we set out to lower the barriers faced by researchers who are considering adopting automated microscopy. These barriers can include price, the technical expertise required for setup and the challenges in customizing a microscope for experimental imaging techniques.

The MVR combines the customizability and low-cost of a home-built microscope with the ease of setup and performance of a turn-key system. We believe that this, combined with its small footprint and portability will make the MVR a unique and attractive option for smaller labs, start-ups or custom system builders.

Even larger imaging centers may be interested because, for the price of one microscope from the big manufacturers, they could get 2 MVRs, allowing them to maintain dedicated setups for different imaging protocols and skip the time and hassle of reconfiguring more expensive systems.

How do you think the use of your technology will advance future scientific research and development?

We hope to achieve our objective of lowering the barriers to automated microscopy. Perhaps some labs that would otherwise be limited to a manual microscope will be able to afford a motorized MVR, allowing their research to progress faster and more collaboratively by screening more samples and being able to share whole slide images.

In other cases, maybe a university lab has access to automated microscopes at a core imaging facility, but they need to book times, pay user fees and transport samples mean that the feedback loop between the experiment and the result is slow. An MVR system may be affordable enough for the lab to purchase their own, speeding up the feedback loop and allowing a dedicated microscope to be reserved for an experiment, reducing the risk of inadvertent setup changes.

Finally, because we ship each MVR system in a reusable hard shell case, and it is so easy to set up and take down, a microscope could actually be shipped between labs, allowing costs to be shared and experiments to be verified on the exact same equipment. The end goal is to advance scientific research by improving access to automated microscopy.

Can you provide any examples where this is already occurring?

One of our first customers, Rejuvenation Technologies Inc, has been using an MVR microscope for biological imaging in drug development. Rejuvenation uses the MVR to measure telomere length as part of their studies of anti-aging therapeutics. The automation, optical performance and affordability of the MVR have allowed them to move forward with their ground-breaking research faster than would have been otherwise possible.

The scientists at Rejuvenation have worked with the high-end microscopy systems in the microscopy core facility at Stanford University for years so they knew what they wanted quality and capability-wise: high-quality optics, autofocus, LED illumination, a low-noise camera, and full-plate automated scanning. After comparing the quality and capabilities of the MVR to the other options on the market they went with the MVR and have been happy with it.

What makes Zaber and its technologies unique?

We are best known for our industry-leading built-in controller technology. We offer almost all our positioning devices with built-in controllers which allows many devices to be daisy-chained and controlled through a single USB port.

The devices are automatically detected by our easy-to-use software, which makes control and programming a breeze. This easy setup and plug and play connectivity make products like the MVR and countless other multi-axis systems possible.


About David Goosen

David Goosen is a mechanical product designer and the microscope product manager at Zaber Technologies.

David received a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of British Columbia. He joined Zaber Technologies in 2009 where he has been working in product design since.

David has led the development of several linear stages, gantry systems and the company's first XY scanning stage. He is now leading Zaber's expansion into the field of biological imaging through his work on the MVR and other microscopy products.  

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