Working with the deadly Ebola virus, U.S. Army scientists have found a safer, faster way to handle and prepare hazardous research specimens using patented technology from Microscopy Innovations, a Wisconsin biotechnology tools firm.

Researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Ft. Detrick, Md., handle dangerous viruses in Biosafety Level 4 (maximum containment) laboratories wearing gloves and biohazard suits. The most dangerous pathogens, such as Ebola, are restricted to BSL-4 facilities. Virus specimens are placed on tiny electron microscope “grids” for viewing. The fragile copper grids are just 3 millimeters in diameter and must be handled with needle-sharp forceps.

The challenge was that USAMRIID technicians wearing bulky, pressurized suits and the required double gloves found handling grids to be slow and difficult. In fact, about 80 percent of the grids were damaged in the process.

“We were looking for a better way to prepare grids,” said Dr. Mei Sun, USAMRIID senior electron microscopy scientist. Sun’s research advances the understanding of Ebola virus by using the electron microscope. The instrument allows her team to directly observe the virus ultrastructure and offers up to 300 times the magnification that light microscopes deliver.

Sun approached Microscopy Innovations about using the company’s mPrep/g™ capsules to handle and process grids containing Ebola virus specimens. By pre-loading empty grids into the patented capsules before entering the restricted BSL-4 area, technicians eliminate the need for direct grid handling while suited up.

Dr. Steven Goodman, Microscopy’s chief scientific officer, proposed a protocol that would allow safe, easy handling of the grids. In tests of the new method in the BSL-4 facility, USAMRIID technicians reported that grid failure rates dropped to almost zero.

“The technicians are thrilled with the new handling method,” said USAMRIID electron microscopist Kathleen Kuehl.

“Our ‘finger-scale’ handling of grids in mPrep capsules allowed technicians to leave the sharp forceps behind and accelerate their grid handling,” Goodman said. “We’re grateful that USAMRIID is always seeking new tools for scientific discovery and that we were able to help.”

Goodman said he expects the collaboration could lead to further applications of the mPrep method by researchers handling a broad array of viruses in BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories.

Photographs (with captions) for possible publication or online use can be found here:

      Technician in BSL-4:     (permission obtained from CDC)

      Ebola virus image:    (permission obtained from USAMRIID)


USAMRIID’s mission is to provide leading edge medical capabilities to deter and defend against current and emerging biological threat agents. Research conducted at USAMRIID leads to medical solutions – vaccines, drugs, diagnostics and information – that benefit both military personnel and civilians. The Institute plays a key role as the lead military medical research laboratory for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense. USAMRIID is a subordinate laboratory of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.

[The information contained in this press release does not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of the Government and no official endorsement should be inferred.]

About Microscopy Innovations:

Microscopy Innovations LLC develops high-impact life science tools for microscopy and cell biology. Its mPrep™ System is used by researchers in academic, pharmaceutical and clinical markets. Its core technology has been awarded multiple U.S. and international patents. The investor-supported company is located in Marshfield, Wis., with additional facilities in Madison, Wis. For more information:

News release distributed through the Wisconsin Technology Council News Service.