STEM cell research and art do not often go hand-in-hand.

But a Parkinson’s disease researcher at Oxford University showed scientific research can be beautiful when he picked up second prize in a photography competition.

Researcher Joel Beevers      

Joel Beevers, a PhD student at St Peter’s College, was handed the award yesterday for his image Tangled Web.

The 29-year-old took the picture using a special microscope of stem cells that are being cultivated in his laboratory and turned into brain cells.

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Some of these cells are of a type susceptible to Parkinson’s, a degenerative disease of the brain, and studying them will help researchers find a cure.

Mr Beevers said: “Most of the work that I do is using the kind of cells that the photo is of.

“We take skin cells from people with a particular genetic make up that we are interested in and use them to make stem cells.

“These stem cells multiply increasingly and we use them to make the sort of brain cells that die in Parkinson’s.

“We grow the cells in a dish and they are not coloured like in the photo, but we can use microbodies that release certain proteins that allow us to visualise the colours.

“The green shows up the type of cells which die in Parkinson’s.

“It was really pleasantly suprising to be runner up. I was very surprised.”

The competition was organised by support and research charity Parkinson’s UK in memory of Oxford graduate Dr Jonathan Stevens, a medical researcher who died from the disease in December 2013 at the age of 34.

Mr Beevers, who lives in Summertown with wife Jessica and their eight-month-old daughter Katherine, said: “Last year Dr Stevens visited the labs a few times so we had a connection with him and his family.

“One of the nice things about this project is that there are these moments when I can look down a microscope and see these amazing things.

“The more that we can understand about why particular variants lead to Parkinson’s the more we can come closer to how we can cure Parkinson’s. The competition was a nice way to allow us to share a small part of what we are discovering with the public.”

Dr Rowan Orme of the University of Keele was the overall winner with his image Nerve Superhighway.


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