Licencing agreement for high-resolution images in medical research

© Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

STED microscopy creates high-resolution images far below the diffraction limit of visible light. However, the technique’s engineering aspects remain comparatively complex, which impedes its dissemination and use. A technology called EASYDOnut, developed by the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and the German Cancer Research Center, simplifies the optical system considerably and has now been licenced by spin-off Abberior GmbH. EASYDOnut precisely guides the laser beams of the STED microscope onto the sample being investigated by means of a single optical element. This innovation can encourage the spread of STED microscopy and benefit medical research. STED microscopy permits significant information to be obtained, even from living human cells.


Living cells can be investigated with modern fluorescence microscopy. In this process, suitable molecules within the cells are tagged with fluorescent dyes, which are then excited with light so they fluoresce. However, using conventional microscopy, no adjacent details closer than 200 nm to one another can be distinguished (due to diffraction limiting and resolution limited by the Abbe number). The reason for this lies in the wave nature of light and the inherent spatial expansion of a beam’s focal point.

With STED microscopy, this focal point illuminating the fluorescing sample is made smaller by preventing the region surrounding the spot of light from fluorescing. This is accomplished by projecting a ring-shaped, second beam of light co-axially with the main beam, but at a different wavelength, one which suppresses fluorescence of the excited dye molecules at the edge of the main beam through what is known as stimulated emission.



Image: Images of a PTK2 cell using a fluorescence confocal microscope (FCM) as well as a STED microscope equipped with the EASYDOnut phase plate. Scale 2 µm.


Thanks to EASYDOnut, both beams of light can originate from a single point source, so there is no need for time-consuming alignment of the beams with one another. That saves users the cost of frequent technical maintenance. The big advantage of the EASYDOnut system lies in its very simple operation. “As a leading manufacturer of commercially available fluorescent dyes for new techniques in microscopy, the EASYDOnut system we offer our customers is a carefully tuned pairing of optical components and dyes for STED microscopy,” according to Dr. Gerald Donnert, Managing Director of Abberior GmbH.

The new technique was developed jointly with the inventor of STED microscopy, Prof. Stefan Hell from the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry, together with Dr. Johann Engelhardt and Dr. Matthias Reuss from the Optical Nanoscopy Department of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) as well as Dr. Volker Westphal and Dr. Lars Kastrup from the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry. The invention has been patented and licensed by Max Planck Innovation and the DKFZ Office of Technology Transfer.

“The innovation simplifies the use of STED microscopes considerably. Observing biological processes in the micro-world of cells is simplified as well as improved, and thus it opens up new paths in biological research and medical diagnostics,” explains Dr. Bernd Ctortecka, Patent and Licensing Manager of Max Planck Innovation. EASYDOnut can be manufactured in an almost unlimited variety of optical wavelength combinations.

About Max Planck Innovation

As the technology transfer organisation of the Max Planck Society, Max Planck Innovation is the link between industry and basic research. Our interdisciplinary team advises and supports scientists in assessing inventions, filing patent applications, as well as founding companies. We offer industry centralised access to innovations of the Max Planck Institutes. In doing so, we fulfil an important mission: the transfer of results from basic research into commercially useful and socially beneficial products.

About Abberior

Abberior GmbH is a spin-off from the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and specialises in the design, manufacture, and marketing of fluorescent markers for high-resolution microscope technologies such as STED, RESOLFT, PALM, STORM, and GSDIM, for example. Abberior GmbH is the only source worldwide for fluorescent labelling that is specifically tested and qualified for high-resolution optical applications. The optical components of EASYDOnut (phase plates) offer simple and robust implementation of STED or RESOLFT methods and complete the product range available from Abberior in the area of high-resolution microscopy.

About DKFZ

With a staff of more than 2,500, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) is the largest biomedical research institution in Germany. More than 1,000 scientists conduct research at DKFZ on how cancer arises, determining what the risk factors for cancer are and seeking new strategies for preventing cancer in human beings. They develop new methods with which tumours can be more accurately diagnosed and how cancer patients can be more successfully treated. The staff members at the Cancer Information Service (KID) help those affected, their family members, and interested members of the public to understand how cancer affects the population. Together with the Heidelberg University Hospital, DKFZ established the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) at Heidelberg through which many of the promising approaches are transferred out of the research lab and into the clinical setting. Part of the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK) and one of the six primary centres for research on health in Germany, the DKFZ translational centres reside at seven partnering university locations. The combination of excellent medical practices at the University Hospital with pure research at one of the Helmholtz centres helps improve the chances for cancer patients. The DKFZ, a member of the Helmholtz Association of German research centres, receives 90 per cent of its financial support from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and 10 per cent from the German state of Baden-Württemberg.