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Latin America Bioimaging: a network to advance bioimaging in the Latin America and Caribbean region

Posted by , on 27 October 2021

Summary

Latin America and the Caribbean comprise a vast and diverse region with significant disparities in scientific development and infrastructure. Nevertheless, it has a long history of regional integration and scientific collaboration. We present a perspective on Latin America Bioimaging (LABI) creation: a new network aimed to build community and develop capacities in bioimaging throughout the region. Based on a solid belief that international cooperation is essential to encompass the challenges of modern imaging techniques, LABI will provide a platform for imaging scientists across the region to interact, share experiences and collaborate in expanding access to bioimaging training and technology. 

The impact of bioimaging in scientific research continues to be enormous and keeps growing at an impressive pace, posing big challenges to bioimaging community members. We are witnessing an era of big advances in imaging techniques and instrumentation, which demands highly qualified and diverse training for imaging scientists to master and keep updated with the latest developments.  Also, the high cost, the degree of complexity of instruments, and the integration of bioimaging with other disciplines -like computer and data science, structural biology, physics, and chemistry, among others- has greatly transformed the way technological infrastructures are organized and imaging scientists develop their careers. The model of a single laboratory or department managing their own microscopy instruments, for example, has moved towards bigger organizational nodes typically named “core-facilities” or “centers”, which centralize instrumentation and provide services to a wide variety of users, usually beyond the limits from their home institutions or even countries. Altogether, these changes have generated a highly interdisciplinary “ecosystem”, with new roles and expertise requirements, so novel career pathways are emerging for the next generation of bioimaging scientists. To work on these issues, several national communities have understood the importance of cooperation on a higher organization level, often building national and regional bioimaging networks. Even more, some ambitious initiatives have been put forward to integrate institutions and bioimaging networks in a global community, such as Global Bioimaging (Table 1).

Name/AcronymRegion-CountryWeb
Euro-bioimagingEuropehttps://www.eurobioimaging.eu/
Bioimaging North-AmericaNort Americahttps://www.bioimagingna.org/
Microscopy AustraliaAustraliahttps://micro.org.au/
Canada BioimagingCanadahttps://www.canadabioimaging.org/
Bioimaging UKUKhttps://bioimaginguk.org/
African Bioimaging ConsortiumAfricahttps://www.africanbioimaging.org/
Advanced Bioimaging SupportJapanhttp://nibb.ac.jp/
India Bioimaging ConsortiumIndia
The Australian National Imaging FacilityAustraliahttps://anif.org.au/
Singapore Microscopy Infrastructure NetworkSingaporehttps://www.singascope.sg/
South Africa BioimagingSouth Africa
Table 1. Imaging network organization arund the world participating in Global Bioimaging, according to https://globalbioimaging.org/ (October 2021). Certainly, the list is not complete and is growing, and is just to exemplify the multiple initiatives of networks and cooperation in imaging around the globe.

The Latin America and Caribbean region is typically defined by the American continent’s countries whose official language is Spanish, Portuguese, or French and comprises more than 30 countries covering about twenty million square kilometers of surface and an estimated population of 667 million inhabitants (Figure 1). Despite the great enthusiasm and general conviction shown by the Latin American scientific community to cooperate at a regional level (see below), different challenges and bottle-necks exist, often stemming from the tremendous disparities in socio-economic situation and research infrastructure perspectives along the region. Besides, the relative lack of economic-political agreements at the government level (such as the Eurozone for example) often precludes the generation of sustained regional funding mechanisms to support this type of cooperation. In this sense, we would like to cite some examples of economic-political regional integration initiatives ongoing in Latin America. The list is not intended to be exhaustive, but to provide a general panorama to contextualize our work and provide a starting point for those interested in digging into more detail.

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was created in 2011 as a representative mechanism for political agreement, cooperation, and integration, bringing together thirty-three countries of Latin America and the Caribbean (Figure 1). FOCEM (Fondo para la Convergencia Estructural de Mercosur) is another initiative that has allowed regional cooperation at different levels. This government-based fund is specifically designed for projects promoting “structural convergence” and aims to promote social cohesion, particularly in smaller economies and less developed regions by supporting the functioning of institutional structures and strengthening the integration process among them. FOCEM has funded Research, Education, and Biotechnologies Applied to Health projects (including an investment of more than 20 million USD:  https://focem.mercosur.int). However, FOCEM only involves Mercosur countries: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Other regions of Latin America have formed similar agreements, like the Pacific Alliance (https://alianzapacifico.net/) (Chile, Colombia, México y Perú), or CARICOM (Caribbean Community) https://caricom.org/. Finally, some networks have been formed, such as ResInfra and Red CLARA, that connect two big regions: Latin America and Caribbean countries with the European Union. They are already working on important topics that certainly pertain to bioimaging, developing joint projects in research infrastructure, data transfer computing, and scientific development.

Figure 1: Latin America political map, with the list of 33 counties members of CELAC (Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños). Adapted from : http://s017.sela.org/celac/estados-miembros/. Copyright SELA 2021 – iKels In purple, the countries that currently participate in LABI.

In this political context, imaging scientists of the region have interacted for decades mainly through scientific societies, including microscopy and related disciplines such as Biophysics, Neuroscience, or Cell and Developmental Biology (table 2 and 3). In particular, a long-standing tradition of electron microscopists was the main driving force to build connections between the Latin American imaging community. Lately incorporating optic microscopists, the Committee of the Inter American Societies of Microscopy (CIASEM) meetings have been probably the biggest events bringing together bioimaging scientists in the region. Accordingly, such activities have been dedicated to the academic and scientific interests of such societies.  In the past two years, Latin America Bioimaging (LABI) has emerged as a new network of imaging scientists interested in addressing particular needs such as training, education, and accessibility to imaging technologies. Its goals and activities aim to synergize and complement existing interactions to increase community-building and bioimaging capacities in the region. 

CountryCIASEM affiliated society
ArgentinaSociedad Argentina de Microscopía, SAMIC
BrazilSociedade Brasileira de Microscopía E Microanalise, SBMM
CanadaMicroscopical Society of Canada, MSC
ChileSociedad Chilena de Microscopía Y Microanálisis
ColombiaAsociación Colombiana de Microscopía
CubaSociedad Cubana de Microscopía Electrónica (The Cuban Society Posts Information on The Site of The Sociedad Cubana de Ciencias Morfológicas as Sección De Microscopía)
EcuadorSociedad Ecuatoriana de Microscopía Electrónica, SEME
MéxicoAsociación Mexicana De Microscopía, A.C.
PerúSociedad Peruana de Microscopía Electrónica (Perú)
UruguaySociedad Uruguaya de Microscopía e Imagenología (SUMI)
VenezuelaSociedad Venezolana de Microscopía Y Microanálisis, SVMM
USAMicroscopy Society of America, MSA
Table 2. Scientific societies where the Bioimaging community of Latin America currently interact: The list covers North, Central and South American microscopy societies participating in CIASEM (Interamerican Committee of Societies for (Electron) Microscopy). CIASEM board organizes an international meeting every two years in a country represented by an affiliated society.
CeBEMCentro de Biología estructural del Mercosurhttps://www.cebem-lat.org/
SABROSouth American Brain Research Organization
LASDBLatin American Society for Developmental Biologyhttp://lasdb-development.org/
SIBCSociedad Iberoamericana de Biología Celular
LAFeBSLatin American Federation of Biophysical Societieshttp://www.lafebs.org/
Table 3: Other regional Scientific Societies integrating Bioimaging Scientists in Latin America

LABI formation was catalyzed by a bi-national cooperation project between Uruguay and Mexico: “UruMex microscopia” (Twitter: @UrumexMicro, Facebook). This  project is funded by a particular program (Fondo Uruguay-México) of the International Cooperation Agencies of both countries (Agencia Uruguaya de Cooperación Internacional, AUCI, and Agencia Mexicana de Cooperación Internacional  para el Desarrollo, AMEXCID) and led by the authors, Andrés Kamaid (PI, IPMONT),  Leonel Malacrida (co-PI, Udelar-IPMON) and Christopher Wood (co-PI, LNMA-UNAM). UruMex Microscopia is aimed at developing advanced microscopy capacities at the national level in both Uruguay and Mexico. To achieve that, we proposed a series of “mirror” activities in both countries. Importantly, from the very beginning we established that regional integration was essential to accomplish the goal of increasing national capacities in bioimaging and to sustain this development. Because of that conviction, we allocated specific resources and a big effort for this particular purpose. 

Thus, this initial bi-national government funding allowed us to uncover and exploit the existing interests for regional initiatives and establish a founder group with some committed imaging scientists from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Perú, México, and Uruguay. Remarkably, LABI creation was first proposed to the wider Latin American community in one of the above mentioned international meetings: thanks to a special invitation of its former President (Dr. Francisco Capani), we presented the UruMex project at the member assembly of the CIASEM meeting in 2019 October 2019, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The idea of creating LABI received tremendous support from CIASEM members, corroborating the need for such a new network, and validating the need to strengthen the already existing interactions. Most participants agreed on the need to foster new partnerships and synergize efforts to face the challenges that the rapidly evolving bioimaging ecosystem poses to all national communities. After that meeting, a few representatives from different countries were committed and began to work together, later on constituting a provisional executive committee (pEC). 

In March 2020 the COVID-19 crisis imposed a big challenge for all of us. Still, it also provided the opportunity to expand participation in remote meetings, allowing a fluid interaction and teamworking that otherwise could have been more difficult to achieve in our region. After a few months of working together in the pEC, UruMex led the organization of the first international meeting towards LABI’s creation (link): “Building the Latin America Bioimaging network: national perspectives and prospects from across the region”.  This International Symposium was held online on the 8th of April 2021, and representatives from 6 countries (alphabetically ordered) presented 15 minutes talks, with speakers being asked to follow a framework of common slides to describe their country’s landscape in bioimaging. 

In this way, we thought to give an initial step specifically targeted to update the status of the region’s national imaging communities. After a successful registration of 177 people from 9 countries (Figure 2), we believe this meeting constituted an important milestone for the Urumex project and LABI creation and we would like to briefly summarize some key aspects that resulted from it. Also, this summarize serves to illustrate the regional diversity and the challenges identified by national representatives. Understanding that the event itself can be a valuable resource to the whole global imaging community,  all talks are freely available at LABI youtube channel, where anyone can delve into the presentations summarized here, including a fruitful roundtable discussion.

Importantly, at that meeting we launched the Latin American Bioimaging webpage to serve as a community resource where all imaging events across the region can be advertised. Importantly, we generated a voluntary self-registration form, which constitutes a public data repository of people and centers that want to be identified across the region. We believe this will be a useful and significant tool to know each other, to connect and interact, as well to centralize information about the available bioimaging infrastructure in the region (LABI webpage).

 Summary of the national presentations:

Argentina

Besides its long tradition in microscopy and the existence of several advanced microscopy and nanoscopy groups, Argentina’s highlight was the presentation of its system for organizing and developing bioimaging resources, unique in the region. Unfortunately, the current coordinator, Lía Pietrasanta, could not attend, but Fernando Steffani presented the National Microscopy System (SNM, founded in 2008). The SNM is a government-based initiative and comprises 95 centers with registered equipment (181 microscopes including 48 confocal, 1 STORM, and 1 STED) distributed throughout the country and more than 5000 microscope users. This initiative also promotes the training of human resources, as well as the exchange of institutional experiences in the use and maintenance of equipment. Courses and workshops funded by these specific funds are open to the scientific community. Interestingly, the existence of such a system allows detailed information about the use and evolution of resources and equipment, providing the community an essential resource for expanding access to technology but also for self-knowledge and strategic planning.

Brazil

Being a continent-sized country with a historically strong commitment to investing in scientific development, it’s not surprising that modern instrumentation centers and highly qualified bioimaging scientists exist in Brazil. Kildare Rocha de Miranda summarized Brazil’s vast microscopy landscape, explaining that despite not having yet a fully integrated national system, several national centers for technology exist, as well as dedicated government-funded grants for nationwide initiatives. At the same time, the bioimaging community is already coordinating efforts through the Sociedade Brasileira de Microscopia e Microanálise (SBMM) and other Brazilian scientific societies to improve imaging career development, research, accessibility, and education. Interestingly, Brazil has reached maturity in describing their microscopy landscape with great detail in a recent work published by Dr. Miranda and others (see reference 1). This material is another very useful resource with information about bioimaging scientists, centers, and its possibilities across the country.

Chile

Chile has begun to organize several core-facility laboratories and Advanced Units-Centers such as UMA-UC, SCIAN-LAB, or CPDAI. Interestingly, some of these centers and groups have evolved into spin-off companies that use the know-how on imaging processing for biomedical imaging and data services. While still mainly centralized to Santiago de Chile (national capital), Chile has developed state-of-the-art bioimaging facilities with a growing community, integrating strong capacities in bioimaging analysis and advanced microscopy instrumentation. Steffen Hartel’s message was that despite a quite advanced degree of development in technology acquisition and expertise, Chile is now in an early stage in terms of the national organization of bioimaging resources. Current efforts are being made to form a nationwide network of related core facilities.

Colombia

According to the presentation by Humberto Ibarra, from the Universidad de los Andes, the number of Bioimaging facilities providing services is still scarce in Colombia. In his opinion, there is weak integration within the local community, and he expects LABI could help catalyze those national interactions and implement new ways of organizing microscopy resources. Despite those difficulties, the meeting served to initiate such contacts with other Colombian imaging scientists, and we will undoubtedly see advances in national and regional integration in the near future.

México 

México has a big community and has developed a unique system of National Laboratories funded by the government. The National Laboratory for Advanced Microscopy (LNMA) was established at the Instituto de Biotecnología-UNAM in 2013 and is a great example of such a national laboratory achieving high standards of quality, implementing international standards on good practices for fair services, and offering to the local community state-of-the-art technologies for bioimaging. It has since grown to incorporate two further sites, one at Mexico’s primary clinical research hospitals (Centro Médico Nacional Siglo XXI) and another at the CICESE research institute, close to the northern border. Several other core facilities exist in Mexico with excellent services available, although the degree of integration and interaction between these sites can improve significantly, which will be promoted over the next few years.

Uruguay

Despite a long tradition in microscopy, due to a school of renowned electron microscopists in the first half of the past century, Uruguay has struggled to develop modern capacities in microscopy. Gabriela Casanova described this small country’s community, that has less than 5 small Imaging units, with a total of 6 laser confocal microscopes in the whole country. As the current president of SUMI (Uruguayan Society of Microscopy and Bioimaging) and responsible for the Unit of Electron Microscopy, she reinforced the need for resources as well as new ways of organization besides scientific societies. Recently, a joint effort of the largest research institution (Udelar) with the newly created IPMON, developed an Advanced Bioimaging Unit with a national perspective (recently boosted by CZI in their Imaging Scientist Program). This unit generates synergies with existing groups for imaging processing and analysis, such as IMAGINA, and allowed the existence of the @urumex microscopia, which helped catalyze LABI creation.

Challenges and Perspectives

Many of the challenges and interests mentioned in LABI’s activities so far, are shared with other impactful networks, such as BINA, Euro-BioImaging, ABIC, and Global Bioimaging. These include the need to improve education, access to technology, sharing experiences, and coordination of efforts. 

However, we would like to point out that many countries of the region were not presented here, and they are also diverse in nature. Most of them are still in the early stages of bioimaging infrastructure organization, with little information available online. Certainly, LABI will promote integration and access to imaging technology and courses to users in more secluded communities, particularly encouraging their participation. Future actions should take into account those particular needs, for instance, when evaluating travel awards or course organization. 

In summary, after the first LABI meeting it was evident that big challenges lay ahead for every national community to accompany and encompass the rapid evolution of the modern bioimaging environment. Importantly, LABI has already received 76 voluntary registrations from 7 countries (Figure 1A), confirming that there is a strong interest and commitment in the Latin American community to work cooperatively to face common challenges and increase opportunities. 

Members of the LABI executive committee (EC) are actively participating in international networks or are on their executive boards. For example, Christopher Wood (CW) is a member of BINA and the extended management board for Global BioImaging, where Andres Kamaid and Leonel Malacrida also participate as invited members. 

LABI perspectives in short and long term

LABI has already established some duties for the near future.  First, we will formally establish the network and define governance mechanisms, including the election of a new executive committee by all members, all of which will be achieved in the foundational meeting to be held in Montevideo-Uruguay in 2022. Second, LABI will need to find mechanisms for funding the many activities we seek to organize. In this sense, we gladly recognize the efforts of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is taking to increase access to imaging expertise and instrumentation for biomedical researchers in select countries, foster collaborations between imaging scientists and biomedical researchers, and increase representation of regional imaging scientists in the global community We have applied already to a specific call for Latin America, Africa, and ex-Soviet Union countries to support regional networks on bioimaging at the early stages as LABI (https://chanzuckerberg.com/rfa/expanding-global-access-bioimaging/). We will also continue to seek funding from government-funding agencies, and work with the existing regional organizations above mentioned to find a way to sustain initiatives like LABI. Some bilateral international-cooperation programs exist already, such as the one that sparked LABI by supporting the Urumex microscopia project, but also between Uruguay-Chile and many others. In our opinion, coordinating these already existing bilateral cooperation opportunities, we could generate a critical mass of initiatives that will create favorable conditions for other types of funding where multilateral cooperation will be needed.

Finally, within the long-term goals, LABI will develop several programs for: supporting good practices for core-facilities developments and facility-staff recognition/perspectives, regional training in fundamentals and advanced imaging resources, cooperation in data storage/management/handling and analysis.  For these goals, LABI will seek active international collaboration with our sisters’ organizations (BINA, ABiC, EuroBioimaging, Australia Bioimaging, etc.).

Post generated by Urumex microscopia team:

Andrés Kamaid1, Christopher Wood2 and Leonel Malacrida1, 3

1- Advanced Bioimaging Unit, Institut Pasteur de Montevideo AND Universidad de la República. Mataojo 2020, 11300 Montevideo, Uruguay.

2- National Laboratory for Advanced Microscopy, Institute for Biotechnology, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Cuernavaca, Morelos, México.

3- Departamento de Fisiopatología, Hospital de Clínicas, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de la República, Uruguay. Av. Italia s/n, 11600 Montevideo, Uruguay.

Contact:

akamaid@pasteur.edu.uy

christopher.wood@ibt.unam.mx

lmalacrida@hc.edu.uy/lmalacrida@pasteur.edu.uy

References:

  1. Albuquerque PC, de Paula Fonseca E Fonseca B, Girard-Dias W, Zicker F, de Souza W, Miranda K. Mapping the Brazilian microscopy landscape: A bibliometric and network analysis. Micron. 2019 Jan;116:84-92. doi: 10.1016/j.micron.2018.10.005. Epub 2018 Oct 15. PMID: 30352362.
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doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/focalplane.7191

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