When Art Meets Science, and Bodies Visualize Antibodies

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Inspired by recent research from the laboratory of Albert Heck (Hecklab) at Utrecht University, a unique collaboration emerged with video artists from Sensu and performers from the Aerialettes. This artist impression visualizes how antibodies to combat diseases can be found in our own bodies.

The science

The way our immune system responds to pathogens varies from person to person. Researchers from Utrecht University recently discovered how this works and found that each person develops a distinctive set of antibodies. These are proteins produced as part of the body’s immune response to tackle an infection or disease. These results were published recently.

The Utrecht team discovered this diversity when they monitored the full repertoire of antibodies present in the blood of healthy and seriously ill individuals. The latter suffered from serious infections, from which they recovered following time spent in the hospital under intensive care. By analyzing the full repertoire of all co-appearing antibodies in the blood they discovered that there was no overlap between donors whatsoever.

Until recently it was considered impossible to accurately map a complex mixture of antibodies in blood, but the Utrecht team managed to achieve this. The team developed an extremely sensitive analysis that reveals minute differences in mixtures of antibodies. The method is a refinement of a tried and tested technique called mass spectrometry, which separates substances based on their molecular composition.

These findings may help explain why some people are more prone to becoming ill, or why they recover faster from illness than others. Extreme diversity in immune responses could also create new possibilities for personalized treatments and vaccinations.

The art

Translating the scientific research, with the aim to engage a wider audience was achieved in collaboration with the video artistic team at Sensu. This science media company had previously transformed work from the Utrecht group into captive research videos.

The flexible similarity of antibodies with the human body gave the Sensu team the idea of teaming up with aerial dance artists from Aerialettes, to show that antibodies really can be as flexible as human bodies.

Together, this combination of arts and science, resulted in a stunning video entitled Quest for Antibodies, showing us the power of the human body.

Anita Shire

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