Thymic coral reef

Kelin Zhao
Created | 2022

The thymus may not be a very familiar organ, but it plays a critical role in the immune system. It’s where special white blood cells called T-cells (the T stands for ‘thymic’) are selected and ‘trained’ to recognise foreign antigens. Most active in the early years of life, the thymus shrinks and reduces in activity after puberty.

Kelin’s video shows a reconstruction of a thymic lobe which consists of two regions with different functions: the outer cortex and the inner medulla. In fact, as the video shows, the medulla takes two forms: a large, branched central structure (magenta) with small, separate outer islets (various colours).

Cancer chemotherapy and radiotherapy not only reduce the number of circulating white blood cells, but may also damage the thymus, leaving patients vulnerable to serious infections and other complications. By studying the dynamics of the thymus, Kelin and colleagues hope to identify ways to boost thymic function and regeneration after acute cancer treatments, increasing survival rates in the post-treatment phase.