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Through the lens of the microscope: where science meets art

01 September 2021
Key Researchers
Black and white photo of Niall Geoghegan
Senior Research Officer
Kylie Luong
Research Assistant
Introduction

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.

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.”
Dr Niall Geoghegan

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.”
Dr Niall Geoghegan
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.”
Kylie Luong

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.

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.

Cellular image coloured with green and purple
2021 Art of Science moving image finalist: ‘Murder in the Dark’ by Kylie Luong and Niall Geoghegan.
“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.”
Kylie Luong

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.

Would you like to be involved in advancing medical research?

WEHI’s researchers are seeking members of the public who would like to contribute to better outcomes in the medical research sector through our Consumer Buddy program.

Consumer representatives do not need to have a science or medical background. Our researchers are interested in non-scientific perspectives to assist in communicating scientific information and relating laboratory research to community experiences.

Pairing consumers with researchers allows our scientists to make discoveries that improve human health. We are particularly interested in talking to members of the public who are current or past patients, family members, carers or friends of patients, with a desire to help improve research outcomes.

The disease areas we are most interested in finding consumer representatives for are: brain cancer, blood cancers (lymphoma, leukemia including AML, MML and CLL), lung cancer, bowel cancer, oesophageal cancer, melanoma, rare cancers, immunotherapy and cancer with an interest in CAR-T research, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease.

To learn more, contact Katya Gray on 03 9345 2981 or email consumers@wehi.edu.au.

WEHI Authors
Black and white photo of Niall Geoghegan
Senior Research Officer
Kylie Luong
Research Assistant
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