The opening of Africa’s most advanced imaging facility in Cape Town last month sees some of the world’s best optical microscopes now available at no cost to scientists across the continent. The tools provided by the Africa Microscopy Initiative (AMI) Imaging Centre, hosted at the University of Cape Town's (UCT) Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, were not previously available to African scientists seeking solutions to major biological and medical challenges. These include infectious diseases such as TB, HIV, malaria, and non-infectious killers such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Millions of people die from these diseases each year.
The facility will also enable ground-breaking new research into plant and animal diseases that threaten agriculture exports and food security, including sleeping sickness (African Trypanosomiasis) and Cassava Mosaic Virus.
Combining visible light with complex arrays of lenses and advanced photophysics, modern optical microscopy enables scientists to accurately capture the smallest features and components in human, animal, and plant cells and tissues. The equipment enables scientists to view objects at the nanoscale, or billionths of a metre.
When combined with advanced analytical software, microscopy images can be used to tackle some of biology’s most challenging research questions, such as how disease-causing bacteria bypass host defences to infect cells, or how damage to nerve cells can disrupt brain function.
Merging disciplines including physics, biology, chemistry, and data science, the AMI Imaging Centre ranks among the best-equipped microscopy facilities globally, providing technical and scientific support, and advanced instrument access.
It is a flagship of the AMI, which launched on the same day. AMI is the biggest microscopy initiative in Africa’s history, and delivers on the African Union’s ambitious Agenda 2063, a blueprint for transforming the continent by raising Africa’s role in global research through investments in science, technology, research, innovation, and world-class infrastructure.
“AMI gives African scientists great access to tools equal to what is available in America and Europe,” said Dr Olatunji Sunday Yinka, head of Anatomy at Rwanda’s Adventist School of Medicine of East Central Africa. “It strengthens African research capabilities and opens opportunities for what researchers can achieve with microscopes to solve different African challenges. AMI is second to none in Africa.”