Chan Zuckerberg Initiative launches $17M digital imaging research program

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is awarding $17 million to 17 scientists across a range of technical disciplines to develop new advances in digital microscopy that may allow researchers and physicians to peer into the subtleties of disease.

Based at separate imaging centers across the U.S., the recipients include engineers, physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists and biologists, with a program focused on developing software, hardware and information-sharing systems.

“Microscopy is a critical tool that allows researchers to actually see biology and life happen instead of just inferring from disparate data points,” said the initiative’s co-founder, Priscilla Chan, in a statement.

And while advancements in the resolution of light and electron microscopy have been made over the past few years, many new microscopes have not been commercialized, according to the initiative.

“One of the ways we’re helping to accelerate scientific progress is by creating connections that otherwise wouldn’t have existed—it's our hope that by bringing together biologists, clinicians, and engineers, we can drive important advances in the field,” Chan added.

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In one example, a fluorescent protein isolated from a jellyfish was attached to an HIV virus, allowing researchers to track its movement into a cell and toward the nucleus.

“By measuring the velocity and direction of travel of these particles, and studying how the cell sometimes is able to block them, we hope to develop better therapies to eradicate HIV-1/AIDS and other viral infections that affect the lives of millions worldwide,” said Caterina Strambio De Castillia of the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Biomedical Imaging Group, in an initiative blog post listing all 17 of the awardees.

Other applications included observations of how cells take up cholesterol and regulate inflammation and hardening in the arteries; the use of AI to identify responses to immunotherapies; and detailed scans of live animals for preclinical models of disease.