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Electron Microscope Leaves Bldg. 7 for History

By Michele Lyons

Workers recently winched an electron microscope out of the sub-basement of Bldg. 7 through a trap door and into NIH history. The rigging company used the same supporting bolts from when the microscope was first lowered into the cramped basement in the mid-1960s.

The scope, a Siemens 1-A, was used in many groundbreaking experiments. In 1972, Dr. Albert Kapikian of NIAID and coworkers discovered the Norwalk virus on the microscope. The virus was the first to be associated with viral diarrheas. The Norwalk and Norwalk-like viruses are now considered to be the major cause of non-bacterial epidemic diarrhea around the world. Because the virus did not grow in any tissue culture system, Kapikian and colleagues used a technique called immune electron microscopy, which led to the virus' discovery by enabling it to be seen and showing that individuals who were infected with the virus developed antibodies to it.

NIAID's Dr. Albert Kapikian (l) and technician Siemer Siems prepare to bid microscope farewell.

Drs. Stephen Feinstone, Kapikian and Robert Purcell discovered the hepatitis A virus with the same technique in 1973. Kapikian and colleagues also visualized rotavirus, which was discovered by others in Australia, for the first time in the United States on this electron microscope. These viruses have emerged as the single most important cause of diarrhea in infants and young children around the world.

The electron microscope was also used as an epidemiologic tool in studies of specimens from various parts of the world. Pinpointing the viruses responsible for diseases enabled researchers to gather information about the viruses, to develop additional tests and to begin to develop vaccines for them.

Siems kept the microscope working for 30 years.

The microscope was in working condition until the day it was dismantled. Kapikian praised technician Siemer Siems, who had kept the microscope in excellent condition for about 30 years. Siems changed filaments or fixed the microscope when called, day or night. With some regret and reminiscing, Siems skillfully took the microscope apart in Bldg. 7 for the move and reassembled it in the storage area of the DeWitt Stetten Jr. Museum of Medical Research. The museum hopes eventually to be able to exhibit this important microscope.

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