Five minutes with Dr Marina KuimovaReader in Chemical Physics

Dr. Marina Kuimova

 1. Tell us about your research in a nutshell

My research uses fluorescence imaging to elucidate the nature of processes involved in the normal functioning and death of biological cells and tissue."

My research uses fluorescence imaging to elucidate the nature of processes involved in the normal functioning and death of biological cells and tissues. Recently my group has developed a novel method for probing viscosity in biological materials and in live cells, using fluorescent molecules termed molecular rotors.

While viscosity is a key parameter that governs many cellular functions, its determination on a single cell level remains a challenge. The fluorescence of molecular rotors responds strongly to the viscosity of the environment, and this makes it possible to map viscosity with high spatial resolution in a strictly quantitative manner. The method also allows the monitoring of dynamic changes in viscosity, for example during cell cycle or death. This is not possible with any other existing methods, and it offers unique advantages in research and in medical diagnostics. Given that alterations in viscosity on the cellular level can be linked to malfunction and disease, this technology was used to probe the biophysical state of cells; in future I hope to develop it for disease diagnostics, for example, during Photodynamic Therapy (a type of cancer treatment).

Another active branch of research is the development of a strategy to monitor G-quadruplexes in live cells, dynamically formed non-canonical structures of DNA (that have four stands instead of two) that have been implicated in many biologically important roles and in disease.

2. Why does your research matter?

Our fluorescence probes are allowing us to obtain unique information on viscosity and secondary structure of DNA in cells, unavailable with other current methods. This, for example, means that we can record images of G quadruplex localisation or viscosity, whereas other methods only allow single point measurements. Another major advantage of our approach is the ability to perform our imaging dynamically, in real time.

These two advantages set our method apart from competitive techniques and allow unique applications. While at the moment most of my group’s research is mainly of academic interest, for pure research in materials, biology and biophysics, I expect that in the future applications in healthcare will become possible.

3.  Who/what sectors would be interested in hearing more about your research?

Food industry;
Aspects of manufacturing (Process and/or quality control).