Reflections of Research

Reflections of Research is our annual competition, reflecting the ground-breaking research we fund through images. 

Since 2005, we’ve invited our driven researchers to show off their best and boldest snaps from the lab. The most engaging and exciting image is awarded the British Heart Foundation’s Reflection of Research Judges' Winner by a panel of judges, and our Facebook supporters pick the Supporters' Favourite.

Reflections of Research 2018

We announced the winners of our 2018 competition on Friday the 17th of August and we're thrilled to share these images with you.

Explosive beginnings, Courtney Williams, University of Leeds (judges’ winner)

This year’s winner, ‘Explosive beginnings’ by Courtney Williams, a Master’s and PhD student from the University of Leeds shows a close-up snapshot of hundreds of endothelial cells – the cells which line all blood vessels – growing on the surface of a bead. They’re in the process of ‘sprouting’ which is the first step in the formation of new blood vessels.

Courtney’s lab are developing new ways to map the growth of new blood vessels within their surrounding landscape in 3D. Understanding the complex secrets of blood vessel formation and how it’s influenced by the surrounding environment could be harnessed to boost the regrowth of damaged blood vessels after a heart attack, and halt blood vessel growth when it’s counterproductive.

Subarachnoid vessels, Matt MacGregor Sharp, PhD student, University of Southampton (runner up)

The runner-up image ‘Subarachnoid vessels’ came from Matt MacGregor Sharp, a PhD student at the University of Southampton. The super-high resolution image taken using a powerful scanning electron microscope shows a normal artery at the surface of the brain in stunning detail. Sitting above the brown brain tissue, the artery appears blue, and its surrounding layer, the pia mater, is shown in purple. 

These ‘subarachnoid vessels’ supply blood to the brain and also act like a drain to remove toxic waste products. Matt Macgregor’s team are trying to show that failure to remove waste by these vessels is one of the underlying causes of vascular dementia. 

A snapshot of platelet production, by Abdullah Obaid Khan, University of Birmingham (supporter’s favourite)

None of this research would be possible without donations from our generous supporters. That’s why, each year, we put a call out on our Facebook page asking you to take part, and vote for your favourite image.

This year, a glittering image from Abdullah Obaid Khan, a PhD student at the University of Birmingham was voted the supporters favourite. The snap shows platelets forming within the bone marrow. Platelets are the smallest of our circulating blood cells and they play a critical role in the formation of blood clots. Blot clots are life-savers when we’re injured, preventing us from losing too much blood. However, if blood clots form unnecessarily inside blood vessels, they can lead to a potentially deadly heart attack or stroke.

Our CEO, Simon Gillespie commented on the wonderful variety of images from this year’s competition.

“These images showcase the ever more sophisticated technologies which allow scientists to investigate the human body in its most intricate detail.”

The shortlist

This year’s competition was a difficult choice for our judges. Scroll down to see the other stunning and diverse photographs that made it onto our shortlist.

Cardiac collagen web, Dr Neil Dufton, Imperial College London

When we talk about cardiovascular disease we often focus on the large vessels moving blood in and out of the heart, but the small vessels which supply each heart muscle cell with oxygen and nutrients are crucial and often overlooked.

This colourful image shows the web-like network of ‘microvessels’ found in the heart. Magenta marks their outer layer; while orange marks their inner lining and blue the cell nuclei. Dr Dufton and his team are studying the role of endothelial cells, found in this orange layer, in the hope of understanding how to maintain a healthy blood supply to every inch of the heart.

Calcium reef, Dr Rheure Alves-Lopes, University of Glasgow

At first glance this could be a satellite image of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. This entry shows calcium within blood vessel cells of people with high blood pressure.

Like the calcium found in coral or in our skeletons, excessive calcium in our blood vessels makes them tough and inflexible, increasing blood pressure. Nearly 30 per cent of adults in the UK have high blood pressure, and up to half are not receiving treatment. Although having high blood pressure often causes no symptoms, it raises the risk of a heart attack or stroke by up to three times. Dr Alves-Lopes is attempting to identify molecules involved in the movement of calcium in and out of blood vessel cells, to suggest new targets for potential treatments for this silent killer.

Budding blood, vessels PhD candidate Kira Chouliaras, University of Oxford

Budding blood vessels

Like the branches of a tree, these mouse retina blood vessels are growing up towards the top of this image. Kira Chouliaras and her team have developed a technique to visualise areas of blood vessels which are actively growing – seen here in yellow and green. By studying differences between the growing and non-growing areas, they hope to understand how the growth is activated. This research could be useful to figure out how to control blood vessel growth and treat heart and circulatory diseases.

Oxidative inkblot, Dr Livia de Lucca Camargo, University of Glasgow

fluorescent heart

This inkblot-like colour explosion shows an enzyme called NADPH oxidase in blood vessel cells taken from patients with high blood pressure. NADPH oxidases have roles in both health and disease, and produce damaging molecules called ‘free radicals’ which can injure the blood vessel wall. People who have high blood pressure are far more likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke, and Dr de Lucca Carmago believes over-activity of this enzyme may be involved.

Heart to heart, Dr Elisa Avolio and Dr Zexu Dang, University of Bristol

The heart consists of four chambers – two smaller chambers called ‘atria’ sit above the two larger and more muscular chambers called the ‘ventricles’ which pump blood out of the heart to the rest of the body. This image shows four ventricles arranged into the shape of the heart’s chambers. These researchers have used a green fluorescent marker to highlight a potentially protective molecule called BPIFB4 which has been linked to a longer life.

Neon skeleton, Dr Svanhild Nornes, University of Oxford

This image shows the developing blood vessel system of a normal two day old zebrafish embryo. The researchers added markers to parts of the fish’s DNA, that can make it glow. By doing this in endothelial cells which make up the walls of blood vessels, they can track blood vessel growth. They hope to understand how certain genes control the growth of new blood vessels.  

Loving artery, Affiliate Professor Silvia Lacchini, University of Glasgow

This image shows a cross section of an aorta, the large vessel which carries blood containing oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the rest of the body. You can see the many layers making up the artery wall, in particular the thick blue layer containing tough structural molecules that provide support.

Last year's winners 

2017 was another great year for Reflections of Research. 

View the complete shortlist from 2017

Previous winners

The competition has been running since 2005. See the spectacular images our scientists have previously entered into our Reflections of Research competition.