The British Heart Foundation has announced the winners of its annual Reflections of Research image competition.
Using medical devices such as MRI scans and microscopes, medical experts have captured the heart in a new light, highlighting its complexity and mystery.
It also highlights the cutting-edge research into heart and circulatory diseases across the UK through captivating images.
The overall winner for 2019 is Iona Cuthbertson, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, who’s entry – ‘A Sea of Cells’ – is a close-up of smooth muscle cells that surround the blood vessels in mice.
Van Gogh-esque: The overall winner for 2019 is Iona Cuthbertson, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, who’s entry – ‘A Sea of Cells’ – is a close-up of smooth muscle cells that surround the blood vessels in mice
The smooth muscle cells, which are partly responsible for the control of blood flow by narrowing or widening blood vessels, are marked with differently coloured fluorescent proteins.
Tracking the ebb and flow of different proteins in the cells over time can tell scientists about their origins and ability to divide, and help them to understand how the smooth muscle in blood vessels grows.
The judges said it resembled the thick brushstrokes of Vincent van Gogh.
Ms Cuthbertson is investigating ways in which rare types of smooth muscle cells in the walls of arteries rapidly grow after injury.
Specifically, what the rapid growth means in relation to conditions such as atherosclerosis, where there’s a build-up of fatty substances inside arteries – a condition associated with increased stroke and heart attack risk.
The first runner-up: Submitted by Dr Richard Tyser, a BHF Immediate Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, his image shows the heart in a developing mouse embryo – in red are the heart cells and in grey are the cells which make up the rest of the mouse embryo
Second runner-up: This image reflects the complex interaction between the heart and the brain, portraying some of the different imaging techniques that they use to investigate this relationship
The first runner-up came from Dr Richard Tyser, a BHF Immediate Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. His image (above) shows the heart in a developing mouse embryo.
In red are the heart cells and in grey are the cells which make up the rest of the mouse embryo. During early development, the heart initially forms this crescent-like shape and it starts to beat.
Dr Tyser is hoping to further our understanding of the way in which the heart is built during development.
Their findings could act as a researcher’s instruction manual to make heart cells. Using this blueprint, they hope to be able to repair the heart when it gets damaged after various devastating conditions, such as following a heart attack or when babies are born with congenital heart defects.
A Rush of Blood to the Head: An entry submitted by Dr Michael Drozd and Dr Nicole Watt, from the University of Leeds, this image shows the complex network of blood vessels in the mouse brain. Many of the blood vessels seen in this image are thinner than a strand of hair and damage to them can lead to diseases like vascular dementia, and may be caused by diabetes
A Blossom Pericyte: Created by Dr Elisa Avolio at the University of Bristol, this image shows a particular cell called pericytes, which surround and support our blood vessels to make them stronger. The red flower is made by peculiar pericytes, and the filaments you can see are specialised contractile fibres. These allow the contraction of blood vessels, helping to pump the blood in the heart. The circles in the background are pericytes that do not contain the specialized contractile fibres
Nature’s Bricks and Mortar: Submitted by Dr Fraser Macrae, at the University of Leeds, this shows the internal structure of a blood clot. Blood clots contract, compressing red blood cells into polyhedral shapes forcing a protein called fibrin (yellow) into the gaps between them. This creates an impermeable clot, perfect for preventing bleeding. But many cardiovascular diseases, like heart attacks and strokes are caused by the formation of obstructive blood clots in inconvenient places
The second runner-up was a team effort from Cheryl Tan, Maryam Alsharqi, Dr Winok Lapidaire, Dr Mariane Bertagnolli and Dr Adam Lewandowski, all based at the Radcliffe Department of Medicine’s Oxford Cardiovascular Clinical Research Facility at the University of Oxford.
Their image (also above) reflects the complex interaction between the heart and the brain, portraying some of the different imaging techniques that they use to investigate this relationship.
These include magnetic resonance imaging of the heart and brain, ultrasound imaging of the heart, and fluorescent imaging of the heart and blood vessels.
Their research aims to better understand how the brain and heart’s structure and function are related. They’ll also investigate how these relationships differ in people with risk factors for heart and circulatory diseases, such as high blood pressure or a history of pregnancy complications including premature birth and preeclampsia.
The team are hoping to find out how diseases of the heart and brain develop in higher risk individuals, and how they can be prevented.
Blood-brain Barrier Rainbow: This colour explosion represents different cells of the cerebellum within the mouse brain. Astrocytes (green) are cells responsible for the relationship between neur ons and blood vessels. TSPO (red) is a protein associated with steroid production, and they both appear to be located at the blood vessels (yellow). This image suggests that TSPO might be involved in blood – brain barrier regulation, which is what prevents u nwanted substances from entering the brain. Credit: Agne Stadulyte, University of Edinburgh
Halo in the Heart: This is a scan of the heart viewed from below. The bright ‘button’ in the middle of the heart is a metal heart valve to replace the patient’s natural heart valve which wasn’t working normally. The ‘halo’ represents an area of high activity which suggests the new metal valve is infected. Credit: Dr Alexander Fletcher and Dr Nicolas Spath, University of Edinburgh , British Heart Foundation – Reflections of Research
Life-altering Algae: Here we have human monocytes, a type of white blood cell, that have been encapsulated in brown algae. Injecting these capsules in the legs of people with severely limited blood flow may have the potential to promote new blood vessel formation and restore blood flow to the damaged areas. This algae – based tr eatment could reduce the need of leg amputations in people with critical limb ischaemia. Credit: Dr Ashish Patel, Dr Francesca Ludwinski, Professor Suwan Jayasinghe and Professor Bijan Modarai , Kings College London and Imperial College London
Guest judge and Head of Programming at Science Gallery London, John O’Shea, said: ‘Through the skill and imagination of the scientists involved, all of the shortlisted images reveal to us in new ways remarkable processes of life.
‘The winning image succeeds in portraying a turbulent drama happening at a cellular scale.’
Meanwhile, Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive at the British Heart Foundation, and one of the judges of this year’s competition, added: ‘Science and art are two different ways of seeing the world, yet here we demonstrate how the two beautifully collide.
‘These snapshots of the scientific world all tell a story about the complexities of the heart and circulatory system.
‘Connecting science and art showcases new discoveries, sparks curiosity and helps to push for medical breakthroughs in our journey to save and improve lives, and to ultimately beat heartbreak forever.’
United colours of myocytes: Created by Dr Gabor Foldes, Dr Virpi Talman, Dr Harry Hartley, Imperial College London, this image shows human heart muscle cells derived from stem cells. The different colours show a different phase of a cell’s lifecycle . This colourful system is used to develop new treatments that can help the heart to renew itself after an injury, such as the injury caused following a heart attack
Cutting Off Life Support to the Heart: This image shows the blood vessel network in a mouse heart during the early stages after a heart attack. This network of vessels comes to an abrupt stop at the edge of the injured heart muscle (left to right). A functional blood vessel network is critical to keep the heart muscle alive, through delivery of oxygen and essential nutrients, so the heart can continue to beat properly. Credit: Dr Mairi Brittan , University of Edinburgh
WHY DOES THE HEART NOT GET TIRED?
In a person’s lifetime, a human heart can contract billions of times.
The heart is still a muscle, much like the bicep or the hamstring, but the heart never tires.
The reason for this rather crucial detail of anatomy keeps us alive, as without a pumping heart death will shortly follow.
Hearts, although muscles, are made up of different fibres than their counterparts.
This type of fibre, known as cardiac tissue, only exists in the heart and nowhere else in the human body.
Skeletal muscle tires quickly, and can switch from aerobic respiration to anaerobic respiration – producing lactic acid which causes cramp.
If this was to happen in the heart it would cause a heart attack.
To avoid this happening and to allow for constant use without fatigue, the cardiac tissue has a different arrangement.
Cardiac tissue has far more mitochondria which produces a huge amount more energy in the form of a chemical called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP).
Mitochondria are small organelles within cells which are considered to be the powerhouse of the cell and convert glucose into energy inside the organelle.
Having more of these means the heart as an organ will never run out of energy under normal circumstances.
The reason this arrangement does not occur in all muscle sis the energy requirements would be enormous, and unsustainable.
The human body would simply demand more energy than it can create.