Painting with cells

Haley Bridger, August 7th, 2012

During his postdoc, Mark Bray, now a research scientist in the Broad Institute’s Imaging Platform, had a moment of epiphany as he stared at the heart cells before him: he could see a work of art. At the time, Mark was working in the lab of Kevin Kit Parker at the Harvard School of Engineering, a lab that examined the physical characteristics of the cells that compose the heart, and how structural changes in those cells relate to how the heart functions. Usually before the heart fails, cells in the heart start remodeling: they change their shape and size. As they morph into these irregular shapes, they can no longer contract or pull together as they once did.

Mark and his colleagues found that they could pattern these cells, called cardiac myocytes, into different shapes and then fix and stain them to examine different elements of the cells’ inner workings. (In the video below, long actin fibers are shown in white; red, yellow, and blue stains show the sarcomeric alpha-actinin, which is needed to attach contractile fibers.)

“To study exactly how remodeling occurs and what the timeline is, we find it a lot easier to put cardiac cells into shapes that we know,” says Mark. To see the familiar shapes and pattern that Mark chose, check out the video below.

Video by Harrison Dreves, Broad Communications