Irish Scientist to Make New York’s Times Square Glow Green

Posted on: 12 March 2014

Trinity researcher’s up-close image of a lung cancer cell wins international GE Healthcare Cell Imaging Competition

An Irish scientist will light up Times Square New York next month with his striking image of a lung cancer cell surrounded by a green glow. The image was taken by Dr Martin Barr, Clinical Scientist and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Trinity College Dublin and St James’s Hospital, who was today announced as a winner of an international competition that showcases the beauty of cells and the inspiring research conducted by cellular biologists around the world.

The three winners of GE Healthcare Life Sciences’ 2013 Cell Imaging Competition will see their images displayed on high-resolution screens in New York’s Times Square next month.
Dr Barr’s image which was taken as part of his ongoing research to better understand and fight resistance to lung cancer treatments shows in extraordinary detail a lung cancer cell from one of the most common forms of lung cancer; non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The cell measures just one-thousandth of a millimetre, similar in width to a cotton fibre, and is shown in a low-oxygen environment known as ‘hypoxia’. This environment, commonly seen in many solid tumours, makes cancer cells more resistant to chemotherapy and encourages cancer to spread in the majority of patients. The aim of Dr Barr’s research is to target cellular processes triggered by hypoxia in order to make tumours more susceptible to chemotherapy.
Lung cancer is the fourth most common cancer in Ireland and is the commonest cause of cancer death in both sexes, where it accounts for 20% of all cancer deaths. In 2013 there were 2,165 new cases of lung cancer in men and women in Ireland with incidence rates for women in Ireland 55% higher than the EU average, (National Cancer Registry (NCR) in Ireland).
Speaking about what being a winner of this competition means to him and for cancer awareness, Dr Barr said: “As a winner of the GE Healthcare 2013 Cell Imaging Competition, I am absolutely delighted to have one of my images recognised as a prize-winning image by an expert international panel of judges and a public vote of over 23,000 votes. Lung cancer mortality remains significantly high worldwide and in Ireland continues to increase, particularly in women. While novel strategies to target the various cellular processes implicated in resistance to current therapies unfold, a visual image of a cell can have more of an impact and in some instances speak more loudly than words, and highlights the cellular complexity of a cancer cell.”
“To see my winning image displayed on the large high-definition screens in Times Square in New York is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and something I would never have imagined in my career as a cancer research scientist. The projection of my image in this major international hot-spot will hopefully bring further awareness of lung cancer to the general public.”
The image which won the High-Content Analysis category of the competition was taken using an IN Cell Analyzer, one of GE’s high-resolution cell imaging and analysis systems. This technology allows researchers to acquire and analyse multiple images of thousands of cells in a short period of time to aid in the development of tailored drug therapies to combat diseases such as cancer.
Eric Roman, General Manager of Research and Applied Markets, GE Healthcare Life Sciences, said: “This year’s three winning images are once again incredibly beautiful and compelling, reminding us of the cellular complexity behind disease and why the study of cells is so important. We were delighted to receive so many outstanding entries to the competition, which highlights how cell imaging is helping scientists explore the universe of the cell, and so advance our understanding of so many life-threatening and life-limiting diseases. I’d like to thank all the contestants for sending us their images, the judging panel and everyone who cast a vote.”
For seven years, GE’s annual competition has showcased the beauty of cells and the inspiring research of cellular biologists from around the world. This year’s competition attracted over 100 entries from scientists who are using either high-content analysis or high- and super-resolution microscopy to investigate at the cellular level a wide variety of diseases such as cancer, muscle disease and the effects of parasitic infections.

An expert scientific panel of six judges shortlisted the finalists for each category ahead of the public vote.

The Irish National Centre for High Content Screening & Analysis (INCHSA), is the facility in the School of Clinical Medicine at the Institute of Molecular Medicine, where the IN Cell Analyzer 1000 is housed, and where the work was carried out from which the prize-winning image was acquired.



For media queries please contact:

Press Officer for the Faculty of Health Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, Yolanda Kennedy,

About Lung Cancer and Hypoxia:

Lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide in terms of incidence and mortality, and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) constitutes approximately 80% of all primary lung cancers. Chemotherapy for NSCLC is based on the combined treatment of cisplatin with other anti-cancer drugs. Although these combination regimens have produced better therapeutic results than cisplatin alone, overall response rates in patients remain poor. Strategies to further improve the survival of patients with NSCLC involve the discovery or development of more effective drugs or the sensitization of NSCLC cells to pre-existing drugs. For the latter strategy, the mechanisms underlying resistance to chemotherapy, or chemoresistance, need to be more clearly understood.

Most solid tumours, such as those of the lung, develop areas of hypoxia, a condition whereby oxygen consumption is increased by proliferating cancer cells and infiltrating immune cells, and oxygen delivery is impaired due to an abnormal or distorted blood vessel network within the tumour. Clinical and experimental studies have demonstrated that cancer cells exposed to hypoxia acquire resistance to many chemotherapeutic drugs. Because of the poor delivery of anti-cancer drugs to these hypoxic areas, cancer cells adapt to this microenvironment and are better able to survive. Hypoxic tumour cells are more aggressive with decreased sensitivity to cell death-inducing anti-cancer therapies and have an increased capacity to spread to other distant sites in the body, a process known as metastasis. As a result, this imposes a major challenge in the clinical management of many cancers by Oncologists.
Dr Barr’s research study, from which the image was acquired, focuses on the mechanisms underlying hypoxia-induced chemoresistance of lung cancer cells to the chemotherapy drug, cisplatin. The aim of the study is to identify and subsequently target the cellular processes that are switched on by lung cancer cells in this low oxygen environment as a strategy to overcome hypoxia-induced chemoresistance in lung cancer, thereby increasing the susceptibility and sensitivity of cancer cells to cisplatin-based chemotherapy.