Multi-million-pound investment in a regional cryo-electron microscope facility at our University

Our University has led a successful bid, in partnership with the Universities of Warwick, Nottingham and Birmingham to establish a state-of-the-art Midlands regional cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM) facility based at Leicester.

The total investment exceeds £6M with £3.7M from the Medical Research Council. The four partner Universities will provide the remaining funds with a major contribution from our University (£1.8M).

The Cryo-EM facility will bring cutting-edge research technologies to the Midlands and represents another successful collaboration within the Midlands Innovation group.

Professor John Schwabe, Principal Applicant on the bid and Director of the Leicester Institute of Structural and Chemical Biology, said: “There is currently a revolution in using Cryo-EM for research in structural biology. This award will keep the Leicester Institute of Structural and Chemical Biology at the forefront of the field.”

The facility will be centred around a state-of-the-art 300kV cryo-electron microscope, with the latest generation of direct electron-detecting cameras. A second “feeder” microscope will be based at the University of Warwick.

The Leicester microscope is currently one of the most powerful instruments of this type and will enable researchers to determine the structure and function of the large molecular machines that carry out the processes of life inside all our cells.

The facility will also boast state of the art computational infrastructure (based around powerful GPU’s) necessary to process the very large (from 1 to 10 TB/day) amounts of data generated by these instruments.

Professor Paul Boyle, President and Vice-Chancellor of our University, said: “The University of Leicester is delighted to see the success of this exciting collaborative project with our Midlands Innovation partners. Such developments exemplify the University's strategic ambitions.”

Professor Iain Gillespie, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research & Enterprise at our University, said: “The Leicester Institute of Structural and Chemical Biology is one of our flagship Research Institutes. This award is testament to the strength of the Institute and the University's investment in this area.”

This regional facility will establish a Midlands Cryo-EM ‘ecosystem’ that will enable the sharing of equipment and expertise and will help to strengthen existing and establish new scientific collaborations across the region.

Professor Philip Baker, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology at our University, said: “The College has a long history of research strength in structural biology and this new technology will enable our researchers to accelerate their study of medically important protein complexes.”

The investment is part of £11.3m in government funding to boost structural and cell biology research announced at the Royal Society this afternoon by Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation.

Structural biology involves determining the 3D architecture of proteins and other biological components in order to provide crucial insights into important processes in human health and disease. This area of science requires extremely powerful microscopy such as Leicester’s new Cryo-EM facility.