By Diana Kenney
After six years of microscope development at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), Shalin Mehta moved in July to Chan Zuckerberg (CZ) Biohub, an independent, nonprofit medical research institute based in San Francisco. CZ Biohub is a philanthropic effort initiated by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, last year.
“I am thrilled to be moving to a collaborative environment similar to MBL,” says Mehta, who will build and lead a 4-person imaging team at CZ Biohub. The Biohub partners with science, engineering, and technology groups from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, San Francisco, and Stanford University.
CZ Biohub has set an ambitious goal: “To cure, prevent or manage all diseases during our children’s lifetime.” For the first decade, the group will focus on engineering tools and technologies that can resolve bottlenecks in multiple areas of medical research. Along with Mehta’s imaging team, the institute is assembling technology teams focused on genome editing and data sciences. To start, CZ Biohub is investing in two research projects: the Infectious Disease Initiative and The Human Cell Atlas. Mehta’s team will contribute to both.
“My scientific vision [for my team] is to reveal the interactions between molecules within cells and between cells within tissues, especially within the clinical context of diseases,” he says. “For example, the molecular components of many viruses can be identified, but it’s not known how those components fit together. I’ll be developing imaging technologies to look at molecular order in the context of understanding how viruses are assembled, such as the Flaviviruses (Zika, West Nile, dengue, and yellow fever, among others). The hope is that once we develop technologies to understand infectious diseases, we can apply them to other diseases.”
For the Human Cell Atlas – a collaborative, international effort to identify all cell types in the human body — Mehta’s team will initially focus on imaging intracellular architecture.
Mehta joined the MBL in 2011 after receiving his Ph.D. in optics and biological microscopy at National University of Singapore. Mentored by MBL biophysicists Rudolf Oldenbourg and Tomami Tani, Mehta pursued his interest in revealing how cells achieve directed functions or forces via the alignment of their molecules. In 2016 he led the MBL’s development of the instantaneous fluorescence polarization microscope, which can track the position and orientation of individual molecules in living cells. His interdisciplinary work on imaging technologies at MBL brought him to the attention of CZ Biohub, where his position is Platform Leader for Advanced Optical Microscopy.
“I am an engineer by training and I am fascinated by biological systems. My experience at MBL was instrumental in enabling valuable interactions with some of the leading biologists,” Mehta says. “The fact that, at MBL, the interactions are free-flowing and collaborations form easily has certainly shaped my research and led me to this opportunity.”
Mehta plans to continue collaborations with several MBL scientists, including MBL Fellows Patrick La Rivière of University of Chicago and Hari Shroff of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. The three are interested in adapting Shroff’s dual-view light-sheet microscope for polarization-resolved imaging of dynamic 3D cells.