Depiction of cell division process in the heart wins 2nd in Croucher Image Awards

30 December 2021

Dr Chi Chung Wu (Croucher Fellowship 2018) had more than beauty in mind when he colourised his image, Cardiomyocyte mitosis. Not only did he capture the cell division process of primary mammalian cardiomyocyte, the contractile unit of the heart, but the colours the Croucher Scholar used made it more accessible to colour blind viewers.

The four separate images of the second prize winner in the Croucher Image Awards 2021 illustrate the process of division of the heart muscle cells that govern pumping of blood began as greys of different intensity, derived through the optical imaging technique confocal microscopy.

From left to right: condensation of replicated chromosomes (magenta), chromosomes align at the equatorial plane, then separated and pulled to the opposite poles by microtubules (green), followed by decondensation and division into two daughter cells.

And its beauty can be appreciated by more people thanks to the colours used. The most common form of colour blindness involves difficulties distinguishing between red and green, but some colour blind people have trouble telling the difference between blue and green and red and yellow, according to the US National Eye Institute.

“People are more aware now to try to think about how colour blind people would see it. For a long time I did not even know that was a problem,” Dr Wu said.

The image was created as part of Dr Wu’s postdoctoral research, two years of which were funded by a Croucher post-doctoral fellowship, at the Max Planck Institute of Heart and Lung Research in Bad Nauheim, Germany. He is working on a project, begun in 2016, to better understand mammalian, including human, heart regeneration after injury — or rather, the lack of regeneration.

“Over the past 10 years one of the major findings in the field is that the adult mouse heart cannot regenerate after injury, but there is a time window when it can — one week after birth,” he said. “During that seven days what happens is that these cardiac muscle cells exit a process called cell cycle. Mitosis – division of a single cell into two identical daughter cells — is part of that cell cycle.

“People have shown that the failure of this process links to the loss of regenerative capacity in the mammalian heart. I just try to understand why,” Wu said.

Wu plans to set up and lead his own research team at Heidelberg University in 2022.

“The Institute is more vascular than cardiac, I’m hoping for new collaborations, there will be new angles to what I’m working on,” he said.

Dr Wu received his BSc in Molecular Biotechnology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He joined the International Max Planck Research School for Cell, Developmental and Systems Biology in Dresden, Germany, for his doctoral studies under the supervision of Prof. Gilbert Weidinger to study heart regeneration in zebrafish and received his PhD in 2016. Currently, he is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Prof. Didier Stainier in the Max Planck Institute of Heart and Lung Research. He received his Croucher Fellowship in 2018

To view Dr Wu’s Croucher profile, please click here