Kenneth Fahy, Venera Weinhardt, Maija Vihinen-Ranta, Nicola Fletcher, Dunja Skoko, Eva Pereiro, Pablo Gastaminza, Ralf Bartenschlager, Dimitri Scholz, Axel Ekman
Compact Cell Imaging Device (CoCID) provides insights into the cellular origins of viral infections, J.Phys, Photonics 3 031002, 2021

Viral diseases are not only an important cause of mortality, but they also carry a significant social and economic cost to humanity. For example, the cost of influenza virus care in 2018 was estimated to be about €29 billion or 2% of the healthcare costs of the EU. Other viruses, such as the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which has an incidence of 8.7 per 100 000 people in the EU, can cause a lifelong infection and is a major cause of liver cancer. Another hepatitis virus, the hepatitis E virus (HEV) causes acute viral infection worldwide, with an increasing incidence in Europe since 2010. The current severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) global pandemic, which has caused a high number of deaths and infections, will probably lead to a fifty-fold or more increase in flu healthcare costs in Europe. While viruses are mostly known for their ability to cause disease, some viruses, such as the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), can be used to kill cancer cells. Altogether, viruses have an important impact on human health, and the costs of developing antiviral therapies and virus-mediated cancer therapy are considerable, in terms of economic, physical, social, and mental well-being.

An analysis of three-dimensional biological cell samples is critical to understand the mechanisms of viral disease and for the development of novel therapeutics. Soft x-ray microscopy (SXM) is a unique technology that can image whole intact cells in 3D under normal and pathological conditions without labelling or fixation, with high throughput and spatial resolution. The main challenge of SXM is that the photonic illumination required for imaging is currently only available at five football-stadium-sized facilities, called synchrotrons, and only a tiny fraction of the infectious disease research community has been able to access this imaging modality.

The European Union Horizon 2020 project called CoCID, the ‘Compact Cell Imaging Device,’ which started in January 2021, proposes to address this challenge by the development of lab-scale SXM for fast and inexpensive three-dimensional imaging of whole cells that can readily be performed in a laboratory. The project specifically focuses on the mechanisms of virus-cell interactions that can be used in the development of antivirals and oncolytic viral therapies.

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