Through the lens of the microscope: where science meets art

Through the lens of the microscope: where science meets art

Illuminate newsletter header, Spring 2021
September 2021
Brain cancer researcher Kylie Luong relies on the technological skills and critical eye of microscopist Dr Niall Geoghegan to solve the mysteries of the immune system and find better treatments for patients.

Researcher Kylie Luong and microscopist Dr Niall Geoghegan worked together to capture, in 3D, green killer T cells eliminating cancerous cells by delivering a lethal dose of toxic protein. Their image (below) appeared in the ABC documentary Cracking COVID and is a finalist in WEHI’s 2021 Art of Science competition.

Dr Niall Geoghegan
Microscopist Dr Niall Geoghegan helps bridge the gap
between advanced technologies and advanced biology.

Niall 

As a microscopist, my job is to bridge the gap between advanced technologies and advanced biology. I need to be able to understand the technology as well as the basic biological concepts to know what the researcher wants from an experiment and how to decode the results. 

We want to take the best technologies in the world and put them in the hands of the scientists asking the most important questions about medical research.

You can gain a lot more insight from a three-dimensional image than you can from a two-dimensional image, which is what we can achieve with cutting-edge microscopy techniques, such as the lattice light sheet microscope.

"Even the researchers get excited when they see the images we produce, because they get to see their research come to life."

Kylie was an Honours student when we met in 2017, and we have worked together sporadically throughout the years.

"Kylie is a joy to work with because she always wants to learn more about the technology. She is always trying to push the technology as far as it can go and isn’t afraid to try new things."

The cool thing about imaging is that we get to see things nobody in the world has seen before. Kylie studies a novel immunotherapy technique, called CAR T cell therapy, which targets cancer. This therapy uses the body’s own T cells to fight cancer. Using our Zeiss lattice light sheet microscope, we were able to create a moving image that shows killer T cells eliminating cancer cells.

Experiments like these help Kylie better understand the biology of T cells, to design better cancer treatments.

By working with Kylie, I’ve learnt about the specific way the immune system functions and how it could be harnessed, which is fascinating. It’s amazing to think that the research Kylie is working on now might one day be used to make someone’s life better. I feel privileged to play a small part in that.

Researcher Kylie Luong
Researcher Kylie Luong uses powerful microscopy
techniques to assist her in improving immunotherapy
treatments for people with cancer.

Kylie

My research aims to better understand the behaviour of white blood cells, known as T cells, to engineer and improve immunotherapy, which is what you might call the fourth pillar of cancer therapy (along with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy), which harnesses the body’s immune system to fight cancer.

I’m particularly interested in how T cells attach to cancer cells and form what is known as an ‘immune synapse’, which facilitates communication between the T cell and the cancer or target cell. 

"Microscopy is a powerful technique that forms the foundation of my research; being able to see individual T cells allows us to better understand the role of the immune synapse and how it drives T cell function."

What is fantastic about the cutting-edge microscopes we have available at WEHI’s Centre for Dynamic Imaging is that we can view, in great detail, live T cells and see how they behave when surrounded by cancer or virus-infected cells across different points in time. 

As researchers, we rely quite heavily on microscopists to bridge imaging technologies with our research and their expertise to get the best results for our experiments. I first met Niall when I started my Honours year at WEHI and have since worked together on several occasions, most recently using the lattice light sheet microscope to image T cells and cancer cells.


2021 Art of Science moving image finalist: 'Murder
in the Dark' by Kylie Luong and Niall Geoghegan.

Niall is enthusiastic and generous with his microscopy knowledge. He is always willing to explain the technological aspects of imaging and help me find ways to incorporate imaging technologies into my research.

"Niall will look at my experiments and provide a different and refreshing perspective to my projects, which helps me discover things I wasn’t necessarily looking for at the outset."

It’s only through collaborations like ours that we can leverage each other’s expertise and perspectives to progress research that could lead to unexpected, and sometimes beautiful, discoveries.

Super Content: 
Lattice light sheet microscope

Optical microscopy has become one of the most powerful tools in medical research.

WEHI's Centre for Dynamic Imaging is advancing our understanding of how diseases develop, spread and respond to treatment.

Our researchers have discovered a promising strategy for treating cancers that are caused by one of the most common cancer-causing changes in cells.