ÖAW innovation fund award for IMBA

Infrastructure for whole-cell electrophysiology and Patch-seq to be established through Innovation Fund award.

IMBA has become an internationally recognized center leading research on organoids, 3D-tissue models developed from stem cells. To strengthen IMBA’s – and the Vienna BioCenter’s - competitiveness in stem cell biology, the institute will establish crucial infrastructure for electrophysiology research, funded by an award from the Austrian Academy of Science’s Innovation Fund.  

IMBA’s researchers are pioneers in the development of organoids, especially for the brain and the heart. Organoids have transformed our ability to model human development and disease by taking advantage of the self-organizing ability of stem cells. IMBA’s scientific progress is reinforced by next-generation sequencing, genome editing, and stem cell engineering facilities available on campus. What has been missing so far, however, is the infrastructure to monitor the electrical activity of tissues through electrophysiological recordings. 

Illuminating cellular activity 

With the award from the Innovation Fund, IMBA will establish patch-clamp electrophysiology and optogenetics at the Vienna BioCenter. Patch-clamp electrophysiology allows researchers to record the electrical current flowing through ion channels of individual cells. Coupling this method with optogenetics and genetic engineering permits researchers to control gene expression with light and, at the same time, to record the cellular electrical activity. 

By further combining these techniques with calcium imaging, and single-cell -omics with patch clamping, researchers at IMBA will not only document the activity of individual cells and interrogate the impact of genetic modifications through gene editing and optogenetics but also uncover the specific transcriptional, protein, or genetic blueprints of the cells under investigation. This significantly expands our toolkit when studying development in health and disease.  

New perspectives for research 

In the lab of Jürgen Knoblich, who established organoids to recapitulate neurodevelopmental disorders, performing cutting edge electrophysiology experiments will drastically improve researchers’ ability to isolate and characterize defects in the activity of neurons. The group of Sasha Mendjan has developed heart organoids as effective models of cardiac injury and congenital heart defects in vitro. These cardioids are highly likely to faithfully recapitulate cardiac disease, the modeling of which will require action potential recordings, calcium recording, microelectrode array-readout, and contraction analysis – which will now be enabled by new infrastructure. The electrophysiology infrastructure will also support the group of Sofia Grade in examining how neuronal networks are re-established after injury.  

Announcing the ephys infrastructure

Dr. Emmanouella Chatzidaki identified a growing need within the institute, secured the funding and implemented the new infrastructure. For the implementation she worked closely with colleagues Dr. Olena Kim and Dr. Michael Zabolocki who now manage the ephys infrastructure.

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