The Center for Cellular Imaging and NanoAnalytics advances and applies analytical methods for the characterization of cellular and sub-cellular structures. The main focal points of our biological research are understanding the structure and function of membrane proteins and the aggregation mechanisms involved in neurodegeneration, particularly Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
The Center for Cellular Imaging and NanoAnalytics (C-CINA) is a research laboratory of the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, Switzerland. It is composed of the groups of professor Henning Stahlberg, Prof. Jan Peter Abrahams, Dr. Thomas Braun (within the Stahlberg lab), and the BioEM Lab.
The Stahlberg group joined C-CINA in 2009, the Abrahams group followed in 2015.
The BioEM Lab was founded in Jan. 2016 and is a life sciences electron microscopy service facility of the Biozentrum of the University of Basel.
Physically, C-CINA is at present integrated into the Department for Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) of the ETH Zürich, which is located in the northern part of Basel. In 2018 it will move into the new Biozentrum building in center of the city.
The Center for Cellular Imaging and NanoAnalytics (C-CINA) was initially established in 2009 as part of the Swiss National Foundation’s research initiative SystemsX.ch, primarily due to the efforts of Prof. Andreas Engel. Like today, the goal was to acquire quantitative information on cells and organisms and to expand our understanding of biological systems. The tasks were to develop tools and methods to image single cells at nanometer-scale resolution and to determine the proteome of single cells by high-throughput visual proteomics. These tasks continue, and the facility was, and still is, open to the partners of SystemsX.ch and to international collaborations.
Importantly, with support from F. Hoffmann La-Roche, SystemsX.ch, and the University of Basel, Andreas Engel was able to acquire an FEI Titan Krios transmission electron microscope for the facility, which was delivered in 2008 as one of the first few Titan Krios instruments worldwide. This instrument is now fully operational in C-CINA and delivers outstanding results. The research of Andreas Engel, previously also in the framework of the Maurice E. Müller Institute at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, focused primarily on aquaporins – which are important for the water household of cells. Membrane proteins are notably difficult to crystallize in three-dimensions for structural analysis by X-ray crystallography. Thus, his goal was to crystallize them in two-dimensions (2-D) in the presence of lipids, which would also allow their function to be studied. This so-called ’reconstitution’ into 2-D crystals, requires the gradual replacement of the detergent the proteins are solubilized in after purification, by lipids. Obtained 2-D crystals can then be studied by electron crystallography imaging and electron diffraction, and also by Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM). In the framework of a European Union consortium, High Throughput 3-DEM, Engel and his team, developed robots to facilitate 2-D the crystallization of membrane proteins and automate grid preparation for electron microscopy. In parallel, also under the lead of Prof. Engel, a larger European Union consortium, 3-D EM, worked to improve the structural analysis of proteins by electron microscopy, looking at hardware and software, as well as at the biological aspects.
Andreas Engel established scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) in Basel in the 1970s while working in the group of Eduard Kellenberger, one of the first professors at the Biozentrum. This instrument could measure the mass of individual protein complexes, and was in almost constant use at the Maurice E. Müller Institute within the Biozentrum from 1986 until 2013.
Andreas Engel also conceived the idea to image the entire proteome of a single cell by loss-less microfluidic sample preparation and electron microscopy, a process he called "Visual Proteomics". His ideas laid the foundation for the developments that are now pursued by the team of Thomas Braun.