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Wesley Legant, assistant professor in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering and the UNC Department of Pharmacology, received a grant for his project titled “Observing Molecules in Context with 4Pi Lattice Light Sheet Nanoscopy” as part of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s (CZI) Dynamic Imaging projects.

Additionally, Scott Magness, associate professor in the Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Cell Biology and Physiology, along with Co-PI Misty Good, Neonatologist-Scientist and Division Chief of the Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine of the Department of Pediatrics at the UNC School of Medicine, were awarded a $1-million CZI project titled, “Integrating Patients to Accelerate the Science Towards a World Without NEC,” which focuses on a rare pediatric inflammatory disease.

written by Kathleen Clardy for Joint BME Communications

A New Kind of Microscope

The CZI Dynamic Imaging Project aims to drive the development of new imaging tools to observe biological processes in the hopes of unlocking new understandings of human health and disease. Legant’s new project will involve developing a new microscope that can observe single molecule dynamics while simultaneously providing an ultrastructural context about the local microenvironment in live cells and tissues.

Legant and his team develop tools to better understand living specimens at single molecule, cellular and tissue level length scales. As part of his work, he works closely with cell and developmental biologists, physicists, mathematicians and software developers at both UNC and outside institutes.

Specifically, he is interested in the development and application of novel fluorescent imaging modalities, the investigation of how mechanical forces drive cell migration through complex three-dimensional environments and the generation of microfabricated platforms to precisely control the cellular microenvironment.


Legant LabInside of a microscope built by Legant Lab


Fighting Rare Pediatric Diseases

CZI also announced grants for projects that focus on single-cell biology. These grants are awarded to collaborative teams to advance a better understanding of fundamental biology and underlying rare diseases. Scott Magness and Misty Good will apply single-cell biological analysis to a rare inflammatory intestinal pediatric disease called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) to clarify the underlying mechanisms of the disease.

“NEC develops suddenly, progresses rapidly, leads to significant morbidity and carries a high mortality rate. Despite the catastrophic outcomes, the disease remains poorly understood, and the community urgently needs better strategies to prevent and detect NEC before it wreaks havoc,” stated Misty Good, Co-PI.

Magness will specifically focus on building a single-cell atlas of human neonatal cells in NEC-affected intestines to see how these cells are changing from a normal to an abnormal state. Through this atlas, Magness and his team hope to determine the initiating condition that starts the disease process in NEC patients.

Ultimately, this project aims to support the development of a diagnostic tool that can screen for NEC earlier on, so clinicians can intervene before the necrotizing process gets more aggressive in patients.

“This funding will allow us to build a single-cell atlas of the human neonatal intestine across postnatal development and during NEC,” Good said. “Up to 50% of infants with surgical NEC are at risk of dying. The babies who survive often experience lifelong complications. The ability to accurately diagnose NEC is a critical step towards our ultimate goal of preventing the disease entirely.”


human intestine cellsProtein MUC5b (red) in crypt-resident goblet cells; MUC2 (green) in all goblet cells from a human intestine

About the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was founded in 2015 to help solve some of society’s toughest challenges — from eradicating disease and improving education to addressing the needs of our local communities. Our mission is to build a more inclusive, just and healthy future for everyone. For more information, please visit

Read the full announcement from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative for Wesley Legant’s work here.

Read the full announcement from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative for Scott Magness and Misty Good’s work here.

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