European soft x-ray microscopy project begins at UCD

2 Feb 2021

Image: © peshkova/

The project aims to develop a soft x-ray microscope that can help scientists to understand the cellular origin of diseases.

A four-year research project focused on the development of a soft x-ray microscope has officially commenced today (2 February).

Compact Cell Imaging Device (CoCID) is a €5.7m pan-European research and innovation project, which will use soft x-ray-based methodology to enable fast and inexpensive three-dimensional imaging of whole internal structures of intact biological cells.

This could provide valuable information for researchers to understand the disease pathways of viruses and aid the development of novel therapeutics. The project team hopes to achieve this by developing a lab-scale, soft x-ray microscope.

The project is funded through EU Horizon 2020 and is being co-ordinated by University College Dublin (UCD). University spin-out company SiriusXT is licensing miniaturised light source technology from UCD to develop the microscope.

Other partners include Heidelberg University Hospital and Heidelberg University in Germany, the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, and the National Centre for Biotechnology and the Alba Synchrotron in Spain.

‘Game-changing technique’

The benefits of the device will be demonstrated through a series of virology use cases that enable researchers to decipher critical changes in cell morphology induced by viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, in their host cell.

“Soft x-ray microscopy is an extremely exciting, potentially game-changing technique that will allow us to visualise virally infected cells in exquisite detail,” said Nicola Fletcher, assistant professor at the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine.

“We will use it to investigate the mechanisms by which the hepatitis E virus, an emerging infectious disease that is transmitted to humans from infected animals, infects cells from different species. The ultimate aim is to explore new treatment options for this important viral infection.”

Dr Venera Weinhardt, a cell imaging expert from the Centre for Organismal Studies at the University of Heidelberg, added that the potential of soft x-ray microscopy is tremendous.

“It is like a medical CT scan but instead of a patient, single cells are imaged at the nanometre level,” she said. “Project CoCID will help demonstrate the benefits of making this amazing technology available as a laboratory device, ubiquitous in all biomedical research laboratories.”

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic