Chiu, Vaughan receive NIH Transformative Research Award

Assistant Professor Joshua Vaughan and Professor Daniel Chiu are among the eight awardees selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a 2017 NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award. This program is one of four in the NIH High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, which funded 86 awards to scientists working in biomedical research in 2017.

The NIH High-Risk, High-Reward Research program funds exceptionally creative scientists proposing to use highly innovative approaches to tackle major challenges in biomedical research. The program accelerates scientific discovery by supporting high-risk ideas with high-impact potential, and applicants are encouraged to think outside the box and to pursue exciting, trailblazing ideas in any area of research relevant to the NIH mission.

The NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award, established in 2009, promotes cross-cutting, interdisciplinary approaches and is open to individuals and teams of investigators who propose research that could potentially create or challenge existing paradigms.

Professors Chiu and Vaughan are developing radical new technologies for high-resolution mapping of brain tissue, including circuit-level spatial information down to a resolution of 50 nanometers and comprehensive analysis of the types of proteins present across large regions of the brain. These techniques are needed because it is technically difficult to directly detect large numbers of proteins in brain tissue.

Instead of trying to measure proteins directly, most approaches measure RNA molecules—a precursor to proteins. But RNA detection in spatially complex brain tissue has its flaws. Current approaches struggle with dim signals that are difficult to detect over background noise in complex, thick tissues. Professors Chiu and Vaughan will develop new fluorescent probes to light up RNA molecules in tissues and will use a novel, large-area light sheet microscope—together with sample processing techniques—to rapidly probe large volumes of brain tissue at high spatial resolution.

The work of 2017 NIH award recipients will be featured at the 2018 High-Risk, High-Reward Research Symposium, held June 6-8, 2018 in Bethesda, MD. The symposium is free, open to the public, and will bring together recipients of the NIH Director’s Pioneer, New Innovator, Transformative Research, and Early Independence awards to share their groundbreaking research and discoveries.

To learn more about Professor Chiu and his research, please visit his faculty page and research group website.

To learn more about Professor Vaughan and his research, please visit his faculty page and research group website.

Adapted by Diana Knight from a October 6, 2017 story by Jennifer Langston of UW News and Leila Gray of UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine.

Nature Methods cover article details refined, accessible technique for expansion microscopy

dividing_finalCongratulations to Assistant Professor Joshua Vaughan and his UW co-workers, whose recent work was featured on the cover of Nature Methods. Their report details the development of a simplified method to “inflate” cellular structures for use in an imaging technique known as expansion microscopy.

Efforts to improve the resolution of cellular structures typically focus on addressing the limitations of microscope hardware. With expansion microscopy, higher resolution is achieved through physical alteration of the specimen. By linking swellable polymers to customized fluorophores, researchers can physically expand the specimen to enable super-resolution microscopy with a conventional laboratory microscope.

As noted in the journal, Vaughan and co-workers have “developed and characterized new methods for linking fluorophores to the polymer that now enable expansion microscopy with conventional fluorescently labeled antibodies and fluorescent proteins.” By simplifying the procedure and expanding fluorophore options, they came up with separate approaches to provide high resolution imaging of individual cells and of tissue slices. In addition to facilitating a range of biological studies, these refinements broadly expand access to the technique, enabling researchers to use a variety of conventional fluorophores and ordinary laboratory microscopes to achieve high resolution cellular imaging.

More information about this work can be found in Nature Methods and in the UW News press release.

For more information about Professor Vaughan and his research, please visit his faculty page and research group website.

Joshua Vaughan to join faculty

Joshua VaughanWe are delighted to announce that Dr. Joshua Vaughan will be joining the Department as our newest Assistant Professor of Chemistry. Dr. Vaughan studied chemistry as an undergraduate at Reed College. He earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry with Professor Keith Nelson at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he developed novel adaptive optical tools and applied them in multidimensional optical spectroscopy, coherent control, and quantitative optical microscopy. He then conducted postdoctoral research with Professor Xiaowei Zhuang at Harvard University in biophysics, with a focus on the development of novel photoswitching chemistries for ultrahigh-resolution fluorescence imaging in fixed and living cells. He received an NIH postdoctoral fellowship and a Burroughs Wellcome Career Award at the Scientific Interface for his postdoctoral research.

Dr. Vaughan will commence his program at the University of Washington in July, and he is happy to be returning to the Pacific Northwest. His research program spans multiple scientific disciplines and will combine the development of new fluorescent probes for bio-nanoimaging and the application of these tools to probe the molecular-level organization of various cellular and organelle systems.

For more information, please contact him directly via email at vaughan@chem.washington.edu.