Dr Graeme Birdsey, a Research Fellow in the Vascular Science Group at National Heart & Lung Institute, recently had work used in a Italian film ‘Into Paradiso’. Graeme explains how this collaboration came about and the work he and his team undertake within the Faculty of Medicine.
“I work within the laboratory of Dr Anna Randi (Reader in Cardiovascular Medicine) in the NHLI Vascular Science section. One of the focuses of our work is on the role of the transcription factor Erg in regulating gene expression in the endothelial cells that form the lining of blood vessels. We have previously shown that Erg plays a key role in directing the formation of new blood vessels, in a process called angiogenesis. We found that Erg was important in allowing endothelial cells to communicate with one another by promoting cell-cell contacts and that disruption of these contacts resulted in cell death. More recently, our work has focused on a role for Erg in regulating one of the key steps during angiogenesis – namely cell migration. In order for new blood vessels to form, specialised endothelial “tip” cells sprout from a pre-existing vessel and lead the outgrowth of the vessel sprout by migrating towards specific chemical cues. I used a number of techniques in the laboratory, including time-lapse video microscopy of endothelial cells grown in culture, to demonstrate that Erg was required for endothelial cell migration. This work was recently published in the journal Blood (Birdsey et al. (2012) Blood 119(3):894-903).
The idea of including the transcription factor Erg and videos of migrating cells in the film “Into Paradiso” came from conversations between Dr Randi and her sister Paola, a film director in Rome. Dr Randi was explaining our work on cells to her sister, in particular the fact that we study how cells communicate (via cell-cell contact pathways) in order to co-ordinate their basic responses, such as survival, proliferation, and migration. She used the analogy between cells and people in society, who also communicate in order to survive and modulate their behaviour. Her sister Paola was struck by this analogy and decided to use it in her film “Into Paradiso”, a comedy on multiculturalism. In the film, a scientist in Naples gets caught in a web of mafia and corrupted politicians, and uses the analogy between cell communication and society to persuade the “bad guys” that they will die (or “apoptose” like cells do) if they pursue their criminal activities. So Paola Randi used the videos of migrating cells, generated by myself in the laboratory, as a background to various scenes in the film and in the running titles.
The reason why the transcription factor Erg got mentioned in the film is because, by pure coincidence, in Italy (where the film is set) “ERG” is a very well known brand of petrol for cars. This is therefore used as an ice-breaker between the main character, the scientist, and his love interest, a Sri Lankan therapist.”