Universiteit Leiden

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Joining hands to advance Dutch microscopy

Advanced microscopy to understand life and fight disease: that’s the goal of the new NL-BioImaging network that will develop and integrate state-of-the-art microscopy technologies and services. Researchers from all Dutch universities, including Leiden University and the Leiden University Medical Centre, are joining forces to optimise innovation in the field. ‘The current challenges cannot be overcome by any one institution by itself.’ The network receives 25 million euros of which 15 million comes from the NWO National Roadmap programme 2023.

Innovative microscopy has become essential for life sciences. We are getting better and better at identifying and manipulating living cells and tissues. But for further development, more is needed. Think of investments in high-tech instrumentation, new probes and data-analysis tools. ‘The current challenges have become impossible to sustain for individual labs or facilities,’ says coordinator professor Eric Reits from the Amsterdam UMC. ‘NL-BioImaging (NL-BI) aims to overcome these challenges by jointly bridging technology gaps and offering access to advance functional imaging in complex systems at all scales.’

What is FAIR data?

The international FAIR principles are guidelines for the way scientific data should be described, stored and published. In other words: data should be findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable.

Catching up on data management

‘The imaging technologies of the Dutch bio-imaging centres create all kinds of valuable data,’ says Sylvia Le Dévédéc, assistant professor from the LACDR and manager of the High-Content Imaging platform at the Leiden Cell Observatory. ‘However, the data management practices lag behind those in other fields and do not yet comply with the FAIR principles. Consequently, bioimaging research results are inaccessible for proper reuse. This prevents collaboration and reduces the value of the data generated. More importantly, data is inaccessible for integration with other data types with prevents progress. This project will change that.’

Leiden leads two research & development nodes

NL-BI will develop and connect state-of-the-art technologies and services for functional imaging of live processes. Katy Wolstencroft of the LIACS leads a dedicated national data management and analysis team. This team will link all Dutch microscopy facilities, and enable greater reuse, mining, and interlinking of large amounts of image data generated using novel AI tools.

'This will lead to scientific advances, ultimately improving therapeutic targeting of chronic diseases such as cancer.'

Leiden leads two of the seven nodes and will invest in physical infrastructure and technical expertise. ‘Together with the National Cancer Institute, we constitute the flagship ‘High Throughput Microscopy’ (HTM) node,’ tells Le Dévédec who leads this node. ‘With the funding, we can purchase a fast imaging system with plate handling automation which will allow us to screen compound libraries. This will greatly increase our screening capacities at the Cell Observatory and lead to scientific advances in drug discovery and safety, and improving therapeutic targeting of chronic diseases such as cancer, degenerative inflammatory disease and neurodegeneration.’

Wolstencroft: ‘In Leiden, we have already set up a FAIR data management system that is connected to over 50 microscopes and serves over 300 users. We can now roll out this solution to all 18 partners in the network.’

The common data approach also enables approaches to reusable, reproducible image analysis pipelines, making cutting-edge AI image analysis available to the bioimaging community. The work of Lennard Voortman, head of the light microscopy facility at LUMC, will combine these activities by focusing on the provision of HTM image analysis workflows.

Great benefits for Leiden and the Netherlands

By providing coordinated access to the Netherlands’ best imaging technology and analysis platforms, the NL-BI roadmap proposal will achieve much-needed excellence in advanced optical microscopy to secure the international competitiveness of Dutch life science research.

Le Dévédéc: ‘Our core imaging facility, the FAIR Cell Observatory, will benefit greatly from the NL-Bioimaging network. The financial support will foster the already very productive collaboration between different institutes of our Faculty and the LUMC. We will be able to extend our suite of imaging possibilities and access to reagents, upscale the imaging infrastructure and improve our FAIR data management.’

NWO Roadmaps

The National Roadmap for Large-Scale Research Facilities from NOW aims to work towards a sustainable ecosystem of Large-scale Research Infrastructure in the Netherlands.

In a press release on 20 February, NWO announced the nine projects that will receive 140 million in total: National Roadmap: Nine projects receive 140 million euros for large-scale research infrastructure.

Executing Organisations

NL-BI is the Dutch infrastructure network for advanced light microscopy in life sciences integrated into the ESFRI program Euro-BioImaging and closely linked to the Dutch Society for Microscopy (NVvM). Participants are all Dutch universities, UMCs, as well as thematic research institutes.

  • Amsterdam UMC - Location AMC (secretary); coordinator: Prof. dr. Eric Reits
  • Erasmus MC
  • Leids University Medical Centrer
  • Maastricht UMC+
  • Nederlands Kanker Instituut
  • Princess Maxima Centre for Children Oncology
  • Radboud University Medical Center
  • Technical University Delft
  • University Leiden
  • University Medical Center Groningen
  • University Medical Center Utrecht
  • University Utrecht
  • University of Amsterdam
  • Free University Amsterdam
  • Wageningen University & Research
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