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National Institutes of Health to Fund 3D X-Ray Microscope at Creighton

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have awarded Mohammed Akhter, Ph.D., P.E., professor of medicine at Creighton University School of Medicine and director of the biomechanics laboratory at the Osteoporosis Research Center, a nearly $600,000 Shared Instrumentation Grant to install the area's first high-resolution 3D X-ray Microscope, the Xradia MicroXCT-200.

The state-of-the-art instrument, which will be housed within the Osteoporosis Research Center at Alegent Creighton Health Creighton University Medical Center, will help further the objectives of six National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded studies and at least six additional users from Creighton, Boys Town National Research Hospital, University of Missouri - Kansas City, University of Nebraska - Lincoln and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

This novel technology will unlock a new world of research opportunities for us here at Creighton, as well as for our collaborators in the region," says Akhter.

The MicroXCT-200 will be used to acquire tomographic scans of biological specimens, including a variety of bone tissue in human bone biopsies as well as cochlear bone structure and embryonic skeletons in small animals. Akhter's current technology, conventional MicroCT, allows him to view characteristics of tissue samples in three-dimensional (3D) images at A MicroXCT-200 scan of a bone biopsy showing bone tissue (orange) and osteocyte lacunae (blue).approximately six micron pixel resolution - or 1/13th of the width of a typical strand of hair. The MicroXCT-200 increases that magnification, allowing Akhter to view specimen down to a submicron level pixel resolution - equivalent to examining 1/133rd of the width of a single strand of hair.

Robert Recker, M.D., chief of the Creighton University School of Medicine's Division of Endocrinology and director of the Osteoporosis Research Center, plans to use the tool to advance his current NIH-funded osteoporosis research on bone quality in postmenopausal women.

"This will allow us to better see and study the most common type of cell in mature bones, called osteocytes, and the space in which they live in the bone, called the lacunae," Recker explains. "This important bone quality feature was previously difficult or, at times, impossible to quantify because of its small size and irregular shape in three dimensions. The MicroXCT-200 will provide us with crucial new data to help improve our understanding of key bone tissue properties that can lead to low trauma fractures."

The MicroXCT-200 will offer critical support to ongoing research outside of the Osteoporosis Research Center, as well. In order to be eligible to apply for NIH's Shared Instrumentation Grant program, Akhter needed to identify at least three NIH-funded projects in the region that would benefit from the technology. But he didn't stop at three. Along with Recker, the following nine researchers have signed on to use the instrument:

  • Sarah Dallas, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Oral and Craniofacial Sciences at the University of Missouri - Kansas City School of Dentistry, requires the MicroXCT-200's high resolution images to study the development of vertebral abnormalities in embryonic mice.
  • David He, Ph.D., professor of biomedical sciences at Creighton University School of Medicine, will use the technology to advance his research into preventing and treating deafness.
  • Mark Johnson, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Oral and Craniofacial Sciences at the University of Missouri - Kansas City School of Dentistry, will use the new technology to advance understanding of osteocyte lacunar properties on two NIH-funded studies.
  • Michael Weston, Ph.D., assistant professor of Oral Biology at Creighton University School of Dentistry, plans to use the MicroXCT-200 to image large pieces of intact biologic tissue at submicron pixel resolutions to better understand cochlear features in mice.
  • Yesha Lundberg, Ph.D., director of the Vestibular Neurogenetics Laboratory at Boys Town National Research Hospital, will be able to add two new aims to an NIH-funded study into otoconia-related balance disorders and dizziness. 
  • Dong Wang, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy, plans to use the technology on a new NIH grant to develop early diagnosis tools and nano-medicine-based therapeutic interventions for aseptic orthopedic implant loosening.
  • Laura Armas, M.D., assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology at Creighton University School of Medicine, will use the technology to study additional features of bone quality as part of a training award.
  • Anuradha Subramanian, Ph.D., professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, is studying ultrasound assisted bioreactor configurations and will use the MicroXCT-200 when features exist below six micron.
  • Joseph Turner, Ph.D., professor of mechanical & materials engineering at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, plans to use the technology to better understand how bone tissue properties and material organization relate to wave transmission in order to advance his work in improving head gear for soldiers.

Akhter will also use the MicroXCT-200 on research of his own, to quantify micro-damage in bone structure similar to stress fractures seen in athletes and military recruits. Amber Stern, Ph.D., assistant professor of oral and craniofacial sciences at the University of Missouri - Kansas City School of Dentistry, and Diane Cullen, Ph.D., professor of biomedical sciences at Creighton University School of Medicine, have also signed on to use the new technology in order to gain data for future NIH applications.

"The MicroXCT-200 is not only a benefit to the scientific research community, it's also an investment in the greater Omaha community," says Akhter. "We'll train researchers and students, we envision seeking funds for additional post-doctoral fellows and, although we will primarily be using this instrument in biomedical science research, the training we provide will ultimately make our students and users more competitive in the use of 3D imaging to characterize specimen of all types."

Although MicroXCT scanners are already in use in Kansas and North Dakota for material science research, Creighton will be one of the first institutions in the country to put the technology to use in the health sciences. Akhter believes his lab's expertise in biology will prompt additional users from Omaha and throughout the U.S. to send their research specimen to Creighton for analysis.

"With the acquisition of this new instrument, we will have established a true 'imaging core' at Creighton University, where we can serve scientific and industry research in the community and throughout the region," says Akhter.

MicroXCT-200 microscopes are part of a line of 3D X-ray microscopes designed and manufactured by Xradia for industrial and academic research applications. Xradia's solutions offer unparalleled high contrast and high resolution imaging capabilities for a large range of sample sizes and shapes. The company was recently acquired by the Carl Zeiss Group, an international leader in the fields of optics and optoelectronics.

Research reported in this press release was supported by the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs of the National Institutes of Health under award number S10 OD016333. The content is solely the responsibility of Creighton University and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.