Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center

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Maximum intensity projection of a 3-color 2-photon 3D image stack of neurospheres derived from mouse embryonic stem cells. Sample provided by Todd Macfarlan, Ph.D., Pfaff laboratory. Imaging was performed at the WABC by James Fitzpatrick, Ph.D.

Grant Recipient:  Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Launched in 2008 with a landmark $20 million gift from the Waitt Foundation, the Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center serves as a state-of-the-art research hub within the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, driving the development of next-generation imaging and visualization tools and enabling investigators from across many biological disciplines to take advantage of the latest imaging technology.

Researchers from all fields, from aging and cancer to neuroscience, metabolism and vision will rely on the center to visualize how living systems function at a level of detail previously not possible. By observing how single molecules and cells function in real-time and deciphering what goes wrong when they malfunction, scientists will begin to learn how Alzheimer’s disease develops; how a cell turns cancerous; and how neurons in a living brain respond to stress, exercise, learning and diet, to name just a few examples.

Biophotonics: The Power of Light

Imagine tagging along with a single protein molecule inside of a living cell as it goes about its job: relaying growth signals into the cell’s nucleus, repairing damaged DNA, or switching on insulin production after a meal. For the first time in history, the evolving technology of biophotonics, which uses single “quantum” units of light, holds the key to unlocking that world.

Now, thanks to brighter light emitting dyes, faster and more sensitive detectors, automation technology and computing capacity that can handle storing vast amounts of image data, it is possible for scientists to probe the molecular mechanisms of life at unprecedented resolutions. The convergence of technological advances puts the formerly unthinkable within the grasp of scientific inquiry, offering unparalleled opportunities to understand the physiology of human disease and to find new ways to treat it.

Seeing is Believing


Biophotonics enables scientists to see single photons and closely study how molecules interact and function within cells. The Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center is designed to house several of these advanced tools, including faster cameras, high-powered microscopes and new brighter light emitting dyes, plus powerful computing capacity that can handle storing vast amounts of live image data. Using laser-based imaging technology that facilitates deep probes within living cells and tissues at unprecedented resolutions, scientists are now able to view the interactions of single molecules. To put the power of biophotonics in perspective, an average, off-the-shelf light microscope can zoom in on the surface of a cell (about half the diameter of single strand of human hair), but microscopes in the Biophotonics Core Facility can dive deep within single components of that cell to study how they interact with one another in their healthy and diseased states. Ultimately, the goal is to make and study movies of these interactions so scientists can better understand the inner workings of cells, and how they relate to the functionality of the entire body. The convergence of technological advances puts the formerly unthinkable within the grasp of scientific inquiry, offering unparalleled opportunities to understand the physiology of human disease and to find new ways to treat it.

The Biophotonics Center Core Facility, equipped with the latest cutting-edge commercial imaging and data analysis technologies, will provide technical and logistical access to Salk faculty, enabling the integration of imaging tools into biological research programs. Instrumentation that is available for core use includes: confocal microscopy (both fixed and live cell), TIRF microscopy, two-photon microscopy, electron microscopy and super-resolution microscopy as well as in vivo imaging modalities. The center exists to provide Salk Faculty with technical support for and logistical access to state-of-the-art imaging technologies to enable the next generation of biological breakthroughs at the Institute. 


Confocal image slice of 0.3 micron thickness through the nucleus of a Delta-55k adenovirus infected small airway epithelial cell (SAEC) stained with two color immunofluorescence 36 hours post injection. Sample prepared by Fanny Estermann from the O'Shea laboratory and imaged in the WABC Core Facility.

Support This Research

Your gifts to the Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center support leading scientific research that has vital application to many of today’s most devastating diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, AIDS/HIV and brain disorders.

About Salk Institute

Dr. Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, established the Salk Institute for Biological Studies more than 40 years ago to pursue questions about the basic principles of life and our understanding of human health. Today, the Salk Institute consistently ranks among the leading research institutions in the world. Major areas of study include molecular biology and genetics, neurosciences and plant biology. With the completion of the Human Genome Project, new directions include: chemistry and proteomics, stem cell biology, cell biology, regulatory biology, metabolic research and computational and theoretical biology.


Salk Institute Web Site
Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center Web Site



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