Webinar Imaging life on a nano-scale

On Monday 14th November 2022 we organized a webinar about the use of nanoSIMS in Life and Medical Sciences. NanoSIMS is a technique that allows us to image isotopic and elemental composition of samples on a sub-micrometer spatial scale (down to 50 nm), and in this webinar we showcased how these capabilities help us investigate biological activity on a cellular and sub-cellular level. Our aim is to stimulate future collaborations among scientists interested in this type of research.

Dutch national facility

The webinar was organized by Utrecht University's GeoLab, which has been hosting the nanoSIMS instrument since 2013 as part of the Dutch national facility for high-resolution in situ isotope and element analysis.


Brief introduction to the nanoSIMS facility at Utrecht University by Lubos Polerecky, head of the facility.

Coupling stable isotope tracer methodologies with NanoSIMS quantitative imaging

By Matthew Steinhauser (University of Pittsburg). The aim of this presentation is to present our experience coupling stable isotope tracer methodologies with NanoSIMS quantitative imaging in applications to biology and biomedical research. We have applied NanoSIMS imaging to study metabolic processes including glucose, amino acid, lipid, and nucleic acid metabolism and cell turnover in model organisms and humans at subcellular resolution. Key vignettes involving application to adipose tissue biology, cardiovascular biology, and cancer will demonstrate the breath of possibilities with this technology and underscore the power of obtaining quantitative functional measurements at the single and subcellular level. 

NanoSIMS imaging of cholesterol and sphingolipids within cellular membranes

By Mary Kraft (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign). Strategies for imaging the distributions of metabolically labeled cholesterol and sphingolipids on and within mammalian cells with a NanoSIMS instrument will be presented.  By combining metabolic label incorporation and NanoSIMS imaging, the distributions cholesterol and sphingolipids in the plasma membrane and within subcellular structures within mammalian cells have been visualized.  A new computational tool for converting NanoSIMS depth profiling data into accurate three-dimensional images of intracellular component distribution without requiring cell sectioning or correlated sample analysis with complementary techniques will also be presented. NanoSIMS imaging of the distributions of membrane components on and within intact cells may enable a better understanding of the roles of membrane lipids and cholesterol in cellular function.

NanoSIMS imaging of the brain in health and disease

By Silvio Rizzoli (Georg-August University, Goettingen). Brain function is intimately bound to the function of the synapses, small contact sites between neurons that enable the transfer of information. Synapse dysfunction is at the root of most brain diseases, and therefore a holistic understanding of synapse function has been the “holy grail” of neuroscience for decades. Our laboratory analyzes synapses by combining advanced imaging techniques in the optical domain with conventional mass spectrometry, with electron microscopy and with nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry (nanoSIMS). Over the last decade, we could derive a thorough understanding of the dynamics of synapses over long time periods, in a fashion that could not be even approached without nanoSIMS imaging, and we also approached the SIMS-based analysis of small brain-regulating drugs. We conclude that nanoSIMS is a promising tool in the biomedical domain, which has been exploited far too little.