MANNHEIM/WETZLAR, GERMANY. On November 23, 2006, Professor Stephan Hell, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Gottingen, was presented with the prestigious German Future Award by Federal President Horst Kohler. This annual technology and innovation award, which was conferred for the tenth time this year, has a cash value of 250,000 Euro and is given in recognition of projects that not only have revolutionary implications for science but are also ready for application and marketing.
Professor Hell received the Future Award for inventing STED microscopy. (STED stands for "stimulated emission depletion".) The patented STED technique has been licensed to Leica Microsystems, which is developing STED microscopy into a user-friendly instrument to be launched on the market in 2007. The new fluorescence system will be produced in Wetzlar and Mannheim. The Stefan Hell/Leica Microsystems team was already successful at the beginning of the year, when Leica Microsystems won the 2005 Innovation Award of German Industry for the Leica TCS 4PI. This ultra-high resolution microscope system was another invention of Hell's to be marketed by Leica.
Hell was the first to find a way of overcoming the 130-year-old AbbÃ© limit in the fluorescence microscope, the most important microscope in biomedical research. Ever since the 17th century, the light microscope has been one of the main symbols of scientific progress - particularly in biology and medicine. Harnessing STED microscopy, molecules can now be imaged with far greater definition than before.
What is new about this technique is the fact that the resolution of microscope images is no longer limited by the wavelength of the light, as postulated by AbbÃ©. The attainable resolution is purely a question of technical design. Hell and his team have already achieved resolutions of 20 nanometers, i.e. 10 times over the AbbÃ© limit. As protein complexes are in the 10-200 nanometer range, this microscope has the
potential to probe life on a molecular scale soon and obtain more accurate information on diseases.
The ability to view life in nanometer dimensions opens the door to an understanding of intracellular life processes which was never thought possible before and which may lead to revolutionary discoveries on the subject of how diseases originate. "We therefore expect all well-known universities and research institutes that do basic biomedical research to buy one of these systems in the next few years," said Dr. Martin Haase, Manager of Leica Microsystems CMS GmbH.
Leica Microsystems is a leading global designer and producer of innovative, high-tech, precision optical systems for the analysis of microstructures. It is one of the market leaders in each of its business areas: Microscopy, Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy, Imaging Systems, Specimen Preparation, and Medical Equipment. The company manufactures a broad range of products for numerous applications requiring microscopic imaging, measurement, and analysis. It also offers system solutions for life science including
biotechnology and medicine, research and development of raw materials, and industrial quality assurance. The company is represented in over 100 countries with 8 manufacturing facilities in 6 countries, sales and service organizations in 19 countries and an international network of dealers. With its workforce of about 3,200 employees it made turnover of US$ 597m in 2005. The international management is headquartered in Wetzlar, Germany.