The Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology (www.nencki.gov.pl) of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAS), founded in 1918, is the first and one of the largest (345 staff including 115 researchers and 111 PhD students) non-university institutions in Poland in the field of biology. High quality of externally funded research (over 60 projects running, of which over 20 are international – NIH, EMBO, Wellcome Trust, NATO, EU FP6 and 7) and excellent publication record (well over 100 peer-reviewed publications on the ISI list and over 2000 citations annually, 10 of 35 Polish most-cited biologists) place the Institute among the leading biological institutions in Central Europe.
The BIO-IMAGINE project is built on the Institutes’ strengths and capture the opportunities arising from large infrastructure investments carried out under the Innovative Economy Operational Programme co-financed from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). It is also a continuation of a process that has originated several years ago with the activities of the FP5 Centre of Excellence in Neurobiology BRAINS (2003-2005). The BRAINS project initiated and strengthened Nencki’s cooperation with several leading research entities in Europe. This collaboration resulted in numerous applications in response to FP6 and FP7 calls for proposals. Six FP6 projects (one coordinated) and twelve FP7 projects have been funded and realized at the Institute since 2004.
Bio-imaging has been the leitmotif of the research carried out at the Nencki Institute for the past several years and the Institute is determined to focus on such studies more strongly in the future. Our understanding of bio-imaging is consistent with the approach of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) on this topic. Research in and application of biomolecular and biomedical imaging is progressing very rapidly and becoming increasingly multidisciplinary. Innovative imaging techniques are the key tools for all life scientists in understanding living systems at both the molecular and the physiological level, from biological model systems to patients. Imaging technologies are core disciplines of tomorrow’s biology and medicine, and represent essential new research infrastructure for the life sciences. Such reasoning applies to various levels of lifes organization from molecular, through cellular to systems. BIO-IMAGINE addresses all those levels. For instance, the Institute’s scientific leaders study such issues as imaging of protein-protein interaction (e.g., Fink et al., Nature Cell Biol., 2009), visualization of proteins and mRNA using advanced fluorescent light microscopy and electron microscopy (e.g., Wilczynski et al., J. Cell Biol., 2008; Wesolowska et al., Oncogene, 2008; Michaluk et al. J. Neurosci., 2009), visualization of cellular organelles such as mitochondria (Kulawiak et al., Exp. Neurol., 2008, Pinton et al., Science, 2007), whole cells (Frankland et al., Science, 2004; Sliwa et al., Brain, 2007) and brain imaging in animals and humans (Knapska et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., USA 2006; Wrobel et al., J. Neurosci., 2007; Young et al., Nature Neurosci., 2007; Szatkowska et al., Neurobiol. Learn. Mem., 2008). This multi-level application of bio-imaging approaches reflects the strategic focus of the Nencki Institute research to advance our understanding of animal and human biology from molecules through cells to the whole organism, with neurobiology as the major research discipline. Most of these studies were carried out in collaboration with international partners. Achieving even better results in the future, aside from intensified international cooperation, requires constant upgrades of the outdated research infrastructures and attracting young talented group leaders in new and emerging research fields.
Significant modernization of the Institute’s research infrastructure financed from the European Structural and Cohesion Funds has recently allowed the Institute to enhance its equipment base. Several state-of-the-art items such as Leica SP5 STED confocal microscope allowing for spatial resolution down to 70 nm as well as the High Performance Biology Transmission electron microscope (resolution 0.2 nm) JEM 1400 (JEOL Co., Japan) were purchased and installed in 2008 as a part of a 4 million Euro investment project realized jointly with the Medical University of Warsaw and the University of Warsaw. Other investments co-financed from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) included a 128-channel BrainProducts EEG equipment, Atomic Force Microscope, and the iCys automated imaging cytometer. This preliminary phase of investments was focused on molecular and cellular imaging and represented the first milestone in strengthening the Institute’s core research competencies and promoting its development entering the 21-st century.
Reaching this milestone has opened the way to large-scale infrastructure investments currently undertaken within the Innovative Economy Programme (2007-2013). A ten-partner consortium, coordinated by the Medical University of Warsaw in collaboration with two other universities and seven research institutes of the Warsaw Ochota Research Campus, is executing a 100 million euro ERDF-funded project to construct a Centre for Preclinical and Technological research (CePT). Nencki Institute is one of the CePT consortium members with an ambitious goal of constructing a neurobiology imaging centre. Nencki’s Neurobiology Centre will consist of several open-access laboratories, including advanced light microscopy and brain imaging (equipped with new 3T fMRI equipment, among others). The investments is expected to be completed in 2012.