Artwork at the heart of science

Fraser Macrae's winning image.
Fraser Macrae's winning image.

Researcher Fraser Macrae is used to studying the wonders of the human body but there was one sight that stopped him in his tracks.

Under the intense magnification of an electron microscope, he spotted a heart-shaped red blood cell. The cell had become entangled in the net-like fibres of a blood clot and this had compressed it into the shape of a heart.

The picture he took of the blood cell has won Fraser the British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) Reflections of Research image competition.

Fraser, who works at the Leeds Institute of Genetics, Health and Therapeutics at the University of Leeds, said: “The human body is amazing, particularly when you can see it at this very fine detail. But I was quite frankly amazed when I saw the blood cell which by chance had been squeezed into a heart shape. As someone who is investigating aspects of heart disease, it seemed to be very symbolic. And that’s why I decided to call the image ‘Getting to the heart of the problem’.”

The electron microscope brought to life structures that measure just a millionth of a millimetre but it can only take photos in shades of grey. Fraser restored the natural red colour of the blood cell using photo software.

Fraser is part of a research team looking at how blood clots form, a vital mechanism to stop blood loss when a blood vessel is damaged but one that can cause a stroke or heart attack when clots form in the wrong place.

Simon Gillespie, chief executive at the BHF, said: “Science relies increasingly on ever more sophisticated imaging techniques to help us to see the cellular and molecular processes that conspire to create disease. Each of these images contains a wealth of information that scientists can use in their fight against cardiovascular disease.”