We recently held the fifth edition of the Best Representative Image of an Outcome (BRIO) Competition, a unique platform for our researchers to share the artistic side of their research and promote visual communication of science and research outcomes. This year, a total of eight images were shortlisted for the competition. Members of Qatar’s academic and research community and public were invited to pick the winning image in an online voting campaign that ran for almost two weeks.

This month, we sit down with the winner of BRIO5, Abbirami Sathappan, Research Specialist IV at the Advanced Imaging Core Facility at Sidra Medicine, whose team won the 5th BRIO competition, to learn more about the research that produced the winning image and explore the unique and often overlooked relationship between art and science.

"Winning BRIO 5 is a true honour and it wouldn’t have been possible without the combined effort of the Deep Phenotyping Core and the Advanced Cell Therapy Core of Sidra Medicine. This achievement is just a small representation of the phenomenal work done at Sidra as we combine world class equipment with the best minds working together to make each patient’s life better." -  Abbirami Sathappan


Let's hear more from her about her experience and the research project that produced the winning image.

  1. Why is it important to explore the artistic side of scientific research and how have you seen the interplay between art and science in your own research?

A great deal of creativity is required to make a scientific breakthrough and art is just a form of expression of this scientific knowledge. Nothing is more beautiful than showing the existence of a process visually. As Dostoevsky used to say, “Beauty will save the world”. We, in research, are constantly attracted by the beauty and marvels of life mechanisms and their astounding unexpected representations, like the one showed in our “Cell Bouquet” image. The possibility of unveiling hidden functions and features drives our scientific journey forward. The inner beauty of the things around us only waits for us to be discovered, recognized, understood and shared.

  1. How do you think the nexus between art and scientific research can be used to encourage young students and the public to learn more about science and research?

Connecting art and science is not a new concept in research. In fact, art and science have been practiced hand in hand for centuries. The 14th century mastermind, Leonardo da Vinci, was not only a world-renowned artist, but he was also a very well accomplished engineer and scientist. His famous investigations include detailed illustrations of human heart and the fetus. He always combined art and science. That is how the current generation of scientists sees it as well. The intellectual visualization of an imagined process comes alive with a well-taken image. Imagination is transmitted to reality and “seeing is believing”! Our microscopes take you into a completely new world! Everybody can objectively recognize beauty. Our task is to transmit the passion of our work while educating and disseminating knowledge. Art can definitively work as a starting point of pure attraction for developing the desire of deeper knowledge

  1. Congratulations on winning the BRIO competition for this year. Can you explain the research that produced this image?

Our BRIO winning image, “A Cell Bouquet,” was acquired at the Advanced Imaging Core (AIC) Facility of the Deep Phenotyping Core, Sidra medicine, equipped with our world class Laser Scanning Confocal Microscope, LSM 880 with AiryScan detection.

The image represents a colony of bone cells derived from stem cells, which are used to test the effect of traditionally available antidiabetic drugs prescribed to patients in the market. The project is focused on Mesenchymal Stromal Cells (MSCs), which are already used in several clinical applications. Sidra Medicine is striving to establish the first biobank of MSCs for timely clinical applications in several settings (Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, complications of Bone Marrow Transplantation, autoimmune disorders, diabetic ulcer, acute lung injury in Covid-19 infection, etc.). More than 1000 clinical trials are being conducted in the world using these cells, and our aim is to bring this advanced technology to Qatar. In the QNRF-funded study, we are specifically testing the possibility to use MSCs as a weapon to prevent type 1 diabetes, the autoimmune type of diabetes that mostly affect children.

Here, I must give credit to Dr. Dhanya Khilakayil, postdoctoral fellow of the Advanced Cell Therapy Core, who was extremely instrumental in achieving this outcome. I must also give credit to Dr. Jean Charles Grivel, Director of the Deep Phenotyping Core and to the LPI of the project, Dr Chiara Cugno, Director of the Advanced Therapy Core, as they played an important role in the research that produced this image.

  1. What was your rationale behind selecting this image and does it relate to the project’s research focus?

Given the capability of MSCs to differentiate into fat and bone, we are currently using them as an experimental platform to test the effects of antidiabetic drugs called thiazolidinediones on these tissues. The thiazolidinediones are powerful drugs for the treatment of type 2 diabetes but the evidence of an increased risk of fractures has significantly decreased their use. The picture presented is part of a set in an experiment where we were testing the possibility to revert the side effect of the antidiabetic drug on the bone using specific dietary supplements. The MSCs are initially differentiated into bone and fat cells. Later on, they are treated with antidiabetic drug and the dietary supplement.

  1. Your image received the most votes out of a total of 3,000 votes from the public. Why do you think your submission appealed to more people than the other competing images?

Several amazing pictures participated to the competition, and we are proud we were selected as winners. It is exciting to see that the public shared our vision that cells can be donated as a bouquet. We hope this will become increasingly true once this cell therapy treatment will be available for patients in need. Definitively, art and science have the same soul- Beauty!

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