1,100 Words

House Hunters

Liver cells are versatile workhorses, synthesizing key proteins while clearing toxins from the body. But these homebodies rarely survive outside the liver, making them challenging to study. Asli Unal, a graduate student in Jennifer West’s lab, is building synthetic homes for picky liver cells. In this Mahato-winning image, she has mixed liver cells (green) and blood cells (red) into a specially-designed jello-like substance which allows them to grow and build their own “extracellular matrix” – essentially redecorating so they feel more at home. By helping liver cells survive outside the body, she hopes to give researchers better ways to study and treat liver disease.