Diamond’s Infrared beamline steps up on living cells research

Diamond’s Multimode Infrared Imaging and Microspectroscopy (MIRIAM) beamline is launching a new upgrade that will offer researchers unique insights into cell metabolism and the effects of drugs and other compounds on living cells.

To mark the inauguration of containment level two (CL2) facilities for the infra-red beamline, unique in the UK, together with the cell culture lab facility on site, Melanie Welham, CEO of BBSRC, will visit the beamline on the 26th June. These technological developments give MIRIAM internationally leading research capabilities in cell biology and biomedical applications for both academia and industry.

Infrared light is capable of revealing the molecular structure of organic matter, invisible in standard microscopy, by using the vibrational signals (so called IR fingerprint) to identify and quantify molecules of interest at microscopic scale. The extremely bright synchrotron radiation at Diamond allows fast and sensitive experiments that enable detailed study of the machinery of living cells, as well as the precise actions of a drug at the single cell level.

This is particularly relevant in chemotherapy studies, where the different response of diverse cancer types to specific drug molecules could be pinpointed at a single cell level. With infrared imaging, the actions of a drug on different cellular components can be observed before any visible changes occur, giving possible new indicators of drug efficacy.

For stem cells researchers, the technique offers the opportunity to understand and observe the early processes in cell differentiation. In a proof of principle study on human pluripotent stem cells, the technique proved its sensitivity for screening the status of stem cells, and monitoring their differentiation along alternative pathways.

Professor Dave Stuart, Life Sciences Director at Diamond and MRC Professor of Structural Biology at the University of Oxford commented: “It is our aim to make Diamond a key centre for bioscience research by providing high-intensity X-rays and infrared light via our beamlines and through an extensive suite of complimentary facilities such as our cryo-electron microscopy electron Bio-Imaging Centre (eBIC). In conjunction with our Membrane Protein Laboratory – a state-of-the-art pipeline from protein production to high throughput protein crystallisation – and our fragment screening facility, XChem, we’re leading the way for early drug ‘lead’ discovery.  

X-ray free electron lasers (XFEL) offer a transformational potential for structural biology, as smaller and more difficult protein crystals can be imaged and extraordinarily fast structural changes can be captured. The UK-XFEL Hub here at Diamond is providing support in technical development, and may pave the way for a UK XFEL. 

Diamond is becoming a ‘one stop shop’ for structural biology, making us a world leading facility. One final example of how we’re leading the way is by combing the electron and X-ray methods in one of our newest beamlines, VMXm. Ultimately, combined facilities like those at Diamond will give bioscientists a key window many new areas - such as how viruses attack cells - paving the way for new drugs and therapies”.

The MIRIAM beamline offers access to an adjacent cell culture lab, which has allowed a step change since the beamline first opened in 2009. This comprehensive approach - from sample preparation to analysis - is key to help researchers directly detect the early stages of biochemical changes in living cells in real time. This will be transformational for those life scientists now interested in building statistically significant pilot studies, and in the future developing a personalised medicine approach and/or studying drug resistance.

MIRIAM is one of the most interdisciplinary beamlines at Diamond, with impact beyond biomedicine, in cultural heritage and archaeology, new materials, mineralogy and volcanology, and space science. The microscopic but extremely brilliant beam generated by the Diamond synchrotron means that researchers using MIRIAM can get the highest possible spectral quality and resolution, producing more data-rich results than benchtop lab devices.

BBSRC are a key funders of several significant projects at Diamond, including the electron Bio-Imaging Centre (eBIC) and the X-Ray Free Electron Laser sample preparation hub (XFEL hub).

Share this article

More services


This article is featured in:
Novel Technologies


Comment on this article

You must be registered and logged in to leave a comment about this article.