Not just a pretty picture: Cell Biology and Image Acquisition core opens up new possibilities for your research

Posted on Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Mitochondria in a human cervical cancer cell under a microscope.

The imaging experts at CBIA can help lead your research where you’ve never gone before.

By Michelle Read

A scratch is made along a carpet of human cells in a petri dish. The cells next to the wound promptly wake up and turn to face the opening. How did they sense that a space opened up? How do they re-orient, and how fast do they move into that space?

How a cell orients itself in space is one of many questions that the Cell Biology and Image Acquisition core facility (CBIA) can help researchers answer at the Faculty of Medicine. With over three million dollars’ worth of image acquisition equipment at Roger Guindon Hall, CBIA has been helping researchers answer science’s most complex questions at the sub-cellular level since 2010.

From qualitative to quantitative

Over the last 10 years, capturing images has evolved from qualitative to quantitative, says core manager and senior microscopy specialist Dr. Chloë van Oostende-Triplet. Imaging used to be about getting a good picture to accompany a manuscript, but advancing technology and image analysis software have stepped up the imaging game.

“We don’t simply take pictures anymore—we’re capturing hard data that can be analyzed,” she says. “Imaging has become a tool to get numerical data, generate statistics, assess the reproducibility of a phenomenon, and observe and track a phenotype.”

Make CBIA part of your project planning

Before starting to plan their next project, researchers are encouraged to come in to CBIA for a free consultation. The team’s experts can help them rethink their approach to their experiments and consider new angles to explore.

“Some may not be comfortable changing their long-time routine of fixing, staining and observing cells,” says core director Dr. John Copeland, associate professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. “But we can help researchers consider how they can reframe their questions to achieve results they didn’t even know were possible, and to make the most of their research dollars.”

The number of clients using the services has doubled over the last three years, now spanning 500 users from 90 labs around the city. Dr. Copeland attributes the increase to several factors:

Customized service

Interested researchers are invited to meet with Dr. van Oostende-Triplet or her colleague, microscopy specialist Skye Green, to discuss what they are aiming to achieve. The team will help them to refine their biological questions, explain how imaging can provide solutions, define the optimal platform for achieving them, and have the researcher return for a trial. Once a plan is established, the CBIA team delivers a personalized consulting service throughout the experiment.

Even researchers with a “crazy idea” are encouraged to reach out to the CBIA, says Dr. van Oostende-Triplet. “We offer free trials to try out your ideas—no risk, no cost—to see if you like the results,” she says. “Seeing is believing.”

Expertise in image analysis

Clients can be trained in the use of equipment, but may need assistance from the team’s microscopy experts with the sophisticated analysis software, which can analyze images in great depth, resulting in big data, or “deep learning.”

“We’ve moved beyond just saying something is there,” says Dr. van Oostende-Triplet. “We’ll help you interpret your data to arrive at hard, quantitative numbers about cell behaviours and molecular events.”

At the forefront of the image acquisition field

The CBIA team keeps pace with evolving technology to bring the latest services to the research community. Through a constant dialogue with researchers, the team raises technical awareness, remains alert to the community’s needs and heads out to seek what is in demand.

They can also demonstrate the newest technologies for the community—“try it before you buy it,” says Dr. van Oostende-Triplet—and can work with the researchers to acquire the finances for the equipment.

CBIA’s equipment ranges from units that image simple, fixed samples, to those capable of imaging and analyzing live tissue samples. Live imaging, notes Dr. Copeland, is an area in which they hope to develop more awareness.

“For example, our confocal microscopes allow us to capture dynamic events at the sub-cellular level, such as cells ingesting particles or other cells (phagocytosis), or mitochondria moving around in a cell,” says Dr. Copeland. “Our microinjector lets us inject a substance into a cell, such as antibodies, enzymes, drugs or proteins, and to record the cell’s reaction in real time.”

Despite the recent increase in clients, Dr. van Oostende-Triplet would love to teach even more people of the value the core’s services in strengthening their research results.

“I want to open more eyes to the power and possibilities of imaging,” she smiles.

The core welcomes your inquiries at

Cell Biology and Image Acquisition website


Main photo: Mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell (magenta), in a human cervical cancer cell. Image taken on the Zeiss LSM880-AiryScan high resolution microscope.
Photo credits: Cell Biology and Image Acquisition core facility

Cell Biology and Image Acquisition core facility staff members:

  • Dr. John Copeland, facility director
  • Dr. Chloë van Oostende-Triplet, facility manager and senior microscopy specialist
  • Skye Green, microscopy specialist

The Cell Biology and Image Acquisition core facility: One of 15 cores at the Faculty of Medicine

With support from affiliated hospital-based research institutes and the University of Ottawa, the Faculty has successfully developed a series of cutting-edge core facilities that bring together state-of-the-art equipment, instrumentation, methodologies and expertise crucial to the success of basic and clinical research activities. These facilities are accessible to all researchers across the University of Ottawa as well as to outside communities on a fee-for-service basis.

To date, 15 cores have been established and a few others are in the planning stages. For each facility, a director and user committees have been appointed to ensure accountability and optimal use for the continued commitment and success of our expanding core facilities.

Animal Behaviour:

Dr. Diane Lagace

Genomics (StemCore):

Dr. Michael Rudnicki


Dr. Theodore Perkins

Proteomics (StemCore):

Dr. Daniel Figeys

Cell Biology and Image Acquisition:

Dr. John Copeland

Human Pluripotent Stem Cells:

Dr. William Stanford

Common Equipment and Technical Expertise:

Dr. Laura Trinkle-Mulcahy

Louise Pelletier Histology Core Facility:

Dr. John Veinot

Containment Level 2/3:

Dr. Marc-André Langlois

Preclinical Imaging:

Dr. Santanu Chakraborty

Flow Cytometry and Virometry:

Dr. Marc-André Langlois


Dr. Daniel Figeys


Dr. David Lohnes


Dr. Julie St-Pierre

Protein Biophysics/Structural Biology:

Dr. Jean-François Couture

For more information, please visit the Core Facilities website.


Photo of Dr. Chloë van Oostende-Triplet, Skye Green and Dr. John Copeland.

The team at the Cell Biology and Image Acquisition core facility. From left to right: Dr. Chloë van Oostende-Triplet, Skye Green and Dr. John Copeland.


Photo of neurons under a microscope.

Neurons captured in a section of mouse brain. Image taken on Quorom Spinning Disc Confocal Microscope.


Human melanoma cell under a microscope.

Human melanoma cell over-expressing metastasis-promoting proteins. Image taken on Quorom Spinning Disc confocal microscope.


Human breast cancer cells under a microscope.

Human breast cancer cells expressing an estrogen receptor that promotes mammary gland development (red). Image taken on Zeiss Axioimager Z1.


Cells of a brain section under a microscope.

Distinct populations of proliferating cells captured in a brain section. Image taken on GE Deltavision Elite Microscope.


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