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A snapshot of platelet production
Abdullah Obaid Khan's 'A snapshot of platelet production', showing how the megakaryocytes form long extensions.

It could come from the pages of a jewellery store brochure, but this fascinating image actually shows how our smallest blood cells form.

The eye-catching image shows the formation of platelets, which are the smallest of our circulating blood cells that play a hugely important role in preventing bleeding.

It was captured by a researcher at the University of Birmingham and has now been recognised in ‘Reflections of Research’, a national science image competition run by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

The entry, by Abdullah Obaid Khan, shows platelets being formed in the bone marrow by their parent cells, called megakaryocytes. Entitled ‘A snapshot of platelet production’, the high-quality image shows how the megakaryocytes form long extensions – called ‘proplatelets’, seen in black – which become packaged with important proteins, seen in bright blue.

The entry was given the seal of approval from the BHF’s supporters, as it received the most votes in an online poll on the BHF’s Facebook page.

Abdullah, a PhD student within the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, said: “The process of platelet formation is extremely difficult to visualise and study, but understanding it is critical to preventing bleeding disorders.

“My work involves modelling bleeding disorders caused by rare genes. When taking this image, I was looking at how stem cell derived megakaryocyte proplatelets compare to those formed by cells taken from in vivo models.

“Having a robust method of looking at platelet production in stem cell models will be critical to our understanding of the rare genetic causes of bleeding conditions.”

The winners and shortlisted entries of this year’s competition were chosen by a panel of experts including the BHF’s chief executive Simon Gillespie, its medical director Professor Sir Nilesh Samani and the artist Anna Dumitriu.

The BHF is one of the leading funders of cardiovascular research in the UK. It currently has over 1,000 active research projects and invests more than £100m in new science each year.

Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive Officer at the British Heart Foundation said: “This year’s competition showcases the ever more sophisticated imaging technologies scientists have at their disposable. New technologies are opening doors in research, allowing us to study the human body in health and disease in its most intricate detail. I love the variety in the images which showcases the breadth of heart and circulatory research. From heart disease to stroke, to vascular dementia, it’s all connected.”