Cancer scientist captures moment of metastasis and wins image competition

Cancer scientist captures moment of metastasis and wins image competition


A researcher has been crowned the winner of the annual Science and Medical Image Competition held by The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) for capturing the transformative ‘metastasis’ process of cancer cells infiltrating blood vessels. 

The remarkable yet terrifying sight is called ‘extravasation’ where cancer cells move out of a blood vessel into the tissue they are spreading to and is known for being difficult to examine in the laboratory.

Dr Maxine Lam, Postdoctoral Training Fellow in the Tumour Microenvironment Team at the ICR, has however, used cutting-edge technology to capture the beautiful image of a cancer cell dividing and invading healthy tissue through the blood vessels. She is one of many researchers which have submitted outstanding pictures which illustrate the pioneering works underway and benefits for patients.

Lam said: “It was a big shock to win the competition because when we take images like this in the lab we do not really think about them as artistic.

“Pictures like this are helping us to better understand how cancer spreads and ultimately to find new ways to stop that spread to benefit people with cancer.”

It shows the ‘penetrating horror of metastasis – as if it were a flying bullet or a piece of shrapnel’, Ross Lydall, Health Editor of the Evening Standard newspaper and a judge for this year’s competition observed. This is a key moment in a cancer cell’s life cycle.

PhD student Patricia Pascual Vargas, was the runner up with her entry showing a time-lapse image of a very aggressive type of triple-negative breast cancer cell, sensing its environment during this process.

She used a total internal reflection fluorescence microscope to capture the cells making contact through structures called focal adhesions.

Dr Chris Bakal, Head of Dynamical Cell Systems and Tumour Microenvironment Teams at the ICR revealed that cancer is often made fatal by its ability to spread around the body.

“It is incredibly valuable to be able to image this process over time to give us the insights into cancer biology that we need to discover new treatments.

“Our winners have used cutting-edge imaging technology to create measurable, single-cell imaging in 3D environments, to provide a vivid picture of exactly how cancer cells metastasise.”

See all the stunning images on the shortlist for this year’s ICR Science and Medical Imaging Competition here


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