The Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine is based in a £32M state-of-the art interdisciplinary research facility opened in 2016. WWIEM houses over 50 groups engaged in cutting-edge biomedical research with themes across immunobiology and infection, cell biology, respiratory medicine, vision and vascular medicine, and clinical research.
WWIEM’s state-of-the-art laboratories include several cell culture suites, including facilities for primary cell isolation, GMO-, HTA- and iPS-related studies.
All of our open-plan labs are furnished with a comprehensive range of core equipment to facilitate molecular, biochemical and cellular analyses, including qRT-PCR platforms, 2‐D‐SDS‐PAGE, gel analysis, ELISA, hypoxia chambers and fluorescence imaging systems.
More specialised shared technical resources are also provided, including a MALDI-TOF-TOF for glycobiology and protein samples, a flow cytometry core (multicolour cell acquisition and sorting capabilities), a pre-clinical retinal imaging unit (Micron IV, Spectralis-OCT, ERG and OptoMotry) and histology services (wax, frozen and live tissue processing and staining). The Institute provides access to a mass cytometry system (CyTOF) and a laser microdissection microscope (Leica LMD7). These systems enhance the research capabilities of the Institute in single-cell proteomic and genomic analysis. Our facilities also include a selection of customised PC workstations for bioinformatics applications and image analysis.
Facilities in our labs specifically for vascular stem cells include an Attune NxT Flow Cytometer, a FACSMelody Cell Sorter, an AutoMACS Pro Separator, a Seahorse XFe96 Analyzer for real-time metabolic assays and an xCELLigence RTCA system for the measurement of vascular permeability, cell attachment, and cell transmigration. The Institute also houses a vascular physiology suite containing a range of equipment for assessing ex vivo microcirculatory function, including wire- and pressure- myography systems, patch-clamp electrophysiology and live cell confocal Ca2+ imaging.
In an effort to drive forward research in human models in line with 3Rs guidelines, the institute has developed numerous stem cell and organoid models to study disease pathogenesis. These include adult and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) models, designed to better replicate human rather than animal physiology and expedite clinical translational of research.
- Cell reprogramming and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell technologies: Professor Margariti’s team has developed patient-specific cell lines of diabetes (diabetic patient-specific iPS cell lines in a petri dish). These cell lines are now valuable tools to study the underlying causes and mechanisms of diabetes-induced endothelial cell dysfunction, to develop human blood vessel organoids and generate new knowledge, biomarkers of diabetes and effective therapies. The iPS cell facilities in the WWIEM have also established iPS cell differentiation protocols towards Smooth Muscle Cells, Pericytes, Cardiomyocytes, Neurons, Macrophages, Retina Pigment Epithelial Cells and many other cell types.
- Neurogenic differentiation of human dental pulp stem cells: Dr Lundy’s team have refined a method of differentiating adult stem cells (human dental pulp stem cells) towards a neuronal lineage, to provide a much-needed human in vitro model of human sensory nerves. This model has already proved valuable for studies aimed at better understanding the mechanisms underlying nociception and cough hypersensitivity.
- Kidney organoids derived from human induced-pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs): Dr Brazil’s group have expertise in the development of kidney organoids that mirror neonatal human kidneys, with cell-types such as mesangial, proximal tubule, distal tubule and podocytes identified. Researchers in the Institute are using these organoids as a model system to study diabetes-induced kidney damage.
- 3D murine gut organoids: the Campbell group routinely generate 3D gut organoids for confocal imaging and microinjection with microbes. The labs are equipped with a Miltenyi GentleMACs tissue dissociator to process tissues and magnetic isolation system to remove immune cells. An Olympus stereomicroscope housed in a dedicated laminar flow cabinet is used to facilitate microinjection while maintaining sterility.
Researchers in the Institute have also developed and established several new ex vivo research models. These include human and pig lung perfusion models to study lung infections and disease-relevant treatments and a human LPS volunteer model to assess new sepsis therapeutics.
Our clinical research is undertaken within the Northern Ireland Clinical Trials Unit and the Wellcome Trust-Wolfson Northern Ireland Clinical Research Facility. The Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility was established in 2013 with funding from the Wellcome Trust and Wolfson Foundation to provide state-of-the-art facilities to support clinical research. The NICRF is a joint venture with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Queen's University belfast and the University of Ulster. Based in Belfast City Hospital, the NICRF has the infrastructure to support clinical trials from conception to completion. With dedicated staff, the NICRF allows researchers to access a specialised area for clinical research, including equipment not available in the NHS. It contains ten clinical rooms, a blood processing facility and a diet kitchen for nutrition studies.
Research within WWIEM is further underpinned by Faculty Core Technology Units (CTUs) providing support in genomics (next generation sequencing), advanced imaging (multiphoton, TIRF, electron microscopy), and a modern biological services unit (conventional and SPF). All academic leaders of the CTUs are researchers from the Welcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine
Further details on the CTUs are provided below:
- The Genomics CTU (GCTU) (Dr David Simpson, academic co-lead) provides access to the latest genomics technology. It supports a range of genomics applications, with a particular focus on Next Generation Sequencing (NGS). GCTU provides an increasing range of off-the shelf NGS services and works with research teams to develop bespoke projects that exploit the power of NGS applications to enhance research outputs. Coupled with complementary robotics, sequence capture and array capabilities, GCTU offers optimum, tailor-made solutions across a wide range of biological applications.
- The Advanced Imaging CTU (Professor Tim Curtis, academic Lead) offers researchers the opportunity to access up-to-date optical and electron microscopy systems. For optical microscopy, the CTU is equipped with wide-field fluorescence, multi-channel confocal, multi-photon and total internal reflection fluorescence microscopes (TIRF). The systems are suitable for use with both live cells and fixed specimens, including specialized applications such as fluorescence lifetime imaging (FLIM), spectral imaging, deconvolution, second harmonic generation and high-throughput imaging applications. The CTU also houses a JEOL Transmission Electron Microscope that is capable of tomography-based imaging and provides training for image processing and analysis using both open-source (e.g. Fiji) and high-end commercial (e.g. IMARIS) software solutions.
- The Biological Services CTU (Dr Beckie Ingram, academic lead) is one of the largest and best-equipped animal facilities on the island of Ireland (1800 m2, budget £7M). The BSU encompasses Conventional, Specific-Pathogen-Free (SPF), and Category 2 Infection units, which are split over two floors and are used for the development and study of different models of human and animal disease. Queen's has a dedicated team of technicians who are responsible for the day-to-day care of the animals held in the Faculty’s Biological Services Unit. It is also supported by the services of a named veterinary surgeon who undertakes weekly checks of the facility.