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Scientists get to see awesome things at work, like very precise scales, cancer cells, or brain cells in a dish, with the help of a microscope. But the winners of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research's annual image competition show everyone how beautiful biology can be — no microscope required.

The latest winners just went on display in 8-foot-tall lightboxes at the institute’s gallery in Cambridge’s Kendall Square neighborhood.


The Koch Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s main cancer research center, hosts more than 50 laboratories — and many of the images are from MIT researchers and their collaborators at other Boston-area institutions. One notable exception comes from scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and is part of a collaboration with the UK-based Wellcome Trust.

Below are a few of our favorites.

Metastatic lung cancer cells.
In a series of photographs taken over 16 hours and combined into one final image, metastatic lung cancer cells change their shape and move around a dish. Claudia Schafer, Frank Gertler/Koch Institute at MIT
The channels and sensors in this photo use vibrations to weigh individual cells multiple times and study how cancer drugs affect a cell’s mass and growth. Selim Olcum, Nathan Cermak, Scott Manalis/Koch Institute at MIT
If a flatworm loses its brain or eye, it can just grow a new one. Shown here are neurons stained different colors depending on their expression of a gene that produces choline acetyltransferase, an enzyme related to production of a neurotransmitter. Samuel A. LoCascio, Kutay Deniz Atabay, Peter Reddien/Whitehead Institute
This image shows biocompatible nanoparticles (yellow) inside clusters of pancreatic cancer cells (pink). Getting nanoparticles inside the cell cultures is a key step toward better treatment options. Liangliang Hao, Srivatsan Raghavan, Emilia Pulver, Jeffrey Wyckoff, Sangeeta Bhatia/Koch Institute at MIT
Even outside of a human body, neurons (green) and astrocytes (red) grown from stem cells will assemble themselves into a network, as seen here. This “mini-brain” is part of the Griffith Lab’s “Human on a Chip” project. Collin Edington, Iris Lee, Linda Griffith/ MIT Department of Biological Engineering and Koch Institute at MIT
Negative space is the key part of this photograph — it’s extracellular matrix, which could impede or allow metastatic cells to get into a tissue or organ. In this photo, those metastatic cells are from colon cancer and are stained dark brown; liver cells are stained light brown. The purple-stained cells are immune cells. Steffen Rickelt, Richard Hynes/Koch Institute at MIT
An ovarian tumor, stained with a molecule that binds to rapidly dividing cells to make it appear white, is trying to break through the tissue of the abdominal wall to spread to other organs. Erik C. Dreaden, Yi Wen Kong, Michael Yaffe, Paula T. Hammond/Koch Institute at MIT
Ultrasound waves can send nucleic acids through layers of skin, shown from top to bottom in these three images. Grey flecks show where new genetic material has taken hold. Carl Schoellhammer, Denitsa Milanova, Humberto Trevino, Cody Cleveland, Jeffrey Wyckoff, Anna Mandinova, Giovanni Traverso, Robert Langer, George Church/Koch Institute at MIT, Harvard University, MGH