The People Behind the 2024 Winning Images

1st Prize Winner: Alan Prescott, University of Dundee

I am a Senior Lecturer in Cell Biology at the School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee attached to the Dundee Imaging Facility. I research many aspects of Cell Biology particularly those studied using wide-field, confocal and electron microscopy. Before moving to Dundee, I studied the Biology of Man and his Environment as an undergraduate and then a PhD characterising the microtubule cytoskeleton of the exocrine pancreas both at Aston University. I then worked as a Research Fellow at the Universities of Keele and East Anglia.


The microscope image is a tiled, confocal view of a frozen section of the eye from a E16.5 mitoQC mouse. In this mouse the mitochondria express both mCherry (red) and GFP (green) and the nuclei are labelled with DAPI (blue). The image is part of a study to generate a comparative map of macroautophagy and mitophagy in the vertebrate eye (Autophagy 15(7):1296-1308). The large red dots are mitochondria in mito-lysosomes demonstrating turn-over of damaged or worn-out mitochondria in active tissues-in this case the developing eye. The acidic environment of the lysosomes quenches the GFP fluorescence. This mouse model has revealed the distribution of mitophagy in diverse active tissues such as skeletal muscle, heart and retina. In addition, it unveils the tissue architecture as delineated by the distribution of mitochondria. At this stage the eyelids are closed, and the posterior chamber still contains blood vessels to support the developing lens and retina.  

2nd Prize Winner: Irene Aspalter, The Francis Crick Institute

It is absolutely fascinating how complex, hierarchical organisms develop from just one cell. What I find particularly interesting is how cells coordinate this process and make robust decisions to ensure the proper development of individual organs and the entire organism. I first started investigating cellular competition during my PhD at the CRUK London Research Institute, where I studied cellular competition in angiogenesis. During my Postdoc at UCL I got the chance to learn microfabrication techniques to study the migration potential of embryonic stem cells during early mammalian development.

Now, I am a Senior Laboratory Research Scientist in the Cellular Adaptive Behaviour Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute, working again on angiogenesis. I am using microfabrication and bioengineering to develop tools that allow us to carefully dissect the mechanisms and pathways used between cells to communicate, in a physiological, yet accessible system. Our future aim is to manipulate the cellular communication to alter vascular network architecture in disease situations, where blood vessels are not optimally functioning.

The Image : “In Line”

Microcontact printing is a powerful method to make cells adhere to very concise areas or shapes. I am using this method to print microscopic lines of extra cellular matrix to study how new blood vessels form from pre-existing ones, a process called angiogenesis.

In this image you see endothelial cells on very thin printed lines in between a crowd of endothelial cells. The crowd is only there to cheer the cells on the printed lines on, as endothelial cells really don’t like to be lonely.

To form new blood vessels, endothelial cells need to select a tip cell, that will lead the new sprout. Microcontact printed lines allow us to make artificial vessels and to investigate how endothelial cells select tip cells. We want to understand how long this process takes and the signalling pathways involved. Why is this important? The rate of tip cell selection strongly influences the architecture of the vascular network; the faster tip cells are selected, the denser the network will be. This is particularly important in disease situations, where blood vessels are not optimally functioning.

In this image the cells were stained with DAPI and VE-Cadherin (both in grey). The image was acquired on a Zeiss LSM880 using a 40x lens and a tile scan.

3rd Prize Winner: Jishizhan Chen, UCL

I am Jishizhan Chen, an Orthopaedist studying PhD in Orthopaedic Biomaterials at University College London (UCL).  My PhD project developed an in vitro biomimetic bone liquid crystalline model, which revealed key biological activities and signalling pathways involved in the process of directional mineralisation. This work was accepted for an oral presentation at the 43rd SICOT Congress and was awarded the Shimomura/OREF/SICOT Travel Award. For this model, I developed a collagen-based photo-crosslinkable bioink for 3D printing. I am obsessed to observe the how nano-to-micro topography of the composite affects cell behaviour, because the topography at this scale is a physical ‘language’ that allows us to ‘talk’ to cells thus instruct their behaviour.

My current work at UCL, however, is completely different from what I was used to. I thought changing models and topics would enrich my experience and make science more exciting to me. I am currently looking at how embryonic immune cells behave during development using the Xenopus embryo as a model system.


This is a false colour scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of 3T3 cells on hydrogels. It vividly showcases 3T3 cells interacting on a hydrogel substrate, with a focus on the detailed cellular interactions with the gel environment and the dynamic connections established between adjacent cells.