Public Release: 

ASCB's Celldance releases microscopic blockbusters

American Society for Cell Biology

A very tiny red carpet is ready. The paparazzi are gathering as a daring experiment in communicating cell biology comes to the test--who will watch the three "Tell Your Own Cell Story" videos commissioned by Celldance Studios, a.k.a. the ASCB's Public Information Committee (PIC)? Dubbed "microscopic blockbusters," the three short videos will premiere online from the 2014 ASCB/IFCB meeting in Philadelphia on Monday, December 8. All three are streamable and downloadable here.

The films are "Killing Cancer, Cytotoxic T-Cells on Patrol" by Alex Ritter, NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program, "Companions in Discovery" by Amy Gladfelter, Dartmouth, and "Cell Repair" by Bill Bement, University of Wisconsin, Madison. The three films, which run from just under three minutes to just over seven, have original music soundtracks scored by Hollywood film composer Ted Masur.

The idea of commissioning working cell biologists to make a film about their own research was a bold break this year for Celldance, explained PIC Chair Simon Atkinson. PIC started Celldance as a microscope video contest in 2005. The original idea, Atkinson explained, was to capture some of the fantastic microscope video that is a hallmark of modern cell biology and put it before the public as well as other scientists. Celldance winners presented some visually dazzling imagery over the years but the overall quality and the number of entries sagged in recent contests, Atkinson said.

It was PIC's Celldance subcommittee chair Duane Compton who came up with the idea of directly commissioning a small number of films from ASCB member labs and then providing post-production services, according to Atkinson. "Duane said we should directly approach some of the labs run by ASCB members who were known for their advanced imaging and ask them for sample video and a story proposal. Duane also said we should throw the commission process open to all ASCB member labs." Thus was born Celldance Studios. "We had a number of amazing proposals from ASCB member labs. Picking three wasn't easy," said Atkinson. "We only gave each lab a $1,000 budget but, as they say in Hollywood, they put the money on the screen."

Beyond the $1,000 in direct underwriting, ASCB supplied post-production support from ASCB's iBiology videographer Eric Kornblum in San Francisco and from ASCB staff in Bethesda. Ted Masur, the composer of the original scores for all three films, came by an interest in cell biology honestly. His mother is the noted cell biologist, Sandra Masur who is on the faculty at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and serves as chair of ASCB's Women In Cell Biology committee. Growing up, Ted Masur recalls that cell biology was like the family business, often discussed around the dinner table. He was always interested in science but Masur's interest and his talents for music led him in another direction. Being asked to score the Celldance commissions was a chance to touch base, Ted Masur says.

Even though it wasn't planned this way, says Atkinson, the three "Tell Your Own Cell Story" videos demonstrate three different approaches to the challenge of making cell biology visible to the world. Atkinson explains, "Alex's video, "Killing Cancer," has some of the most advanced--and most exciting--cell imaging in the world. Alex is in Gillian Griffith's Cambridge (UK) lab which has revolutionized our concept of the role of secretion in immune cells like the cytotoxic T-cells that star in this video." Ritter has also worked in the US with two cutting-edge imaging labs, Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz's at NIH and Eric Betzig's group at HHMI's Janelia Farm Research Campus. "Eric just won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year for his work on superresolution imaging so it doesn't get much more advanced than that."

Amy Gladfelter's "Companions in Discovery" is about the discoveries her lab has made about the physical properties of cellular proteins by using the fungus, Ashbya as a lab model. "Amy's video is both beautiful to watch on an aesthetic level and beautiful to watch as an illustration of how simple model organisms like Ashbya can give us insights into human diseases like Alzheimer's," Atkinson continues. "I also like the end of the film where members of her lab briefly come on camera. It's good to see the real faces of lab scientists. These are young faces and without them, cell biology would be lost."

The third film, "Cell Repair," takes the viewer to the lab bench, says Atkinson. Bill Bement's film starts with the premise that everyone knows how tissue like our skin heals but no one knows much about how cells heal themselves. "It's like sharing a microscope with Bill while he explains what you're seeing," says Atkinson, "and how he's designing this experiment to explore something at the microscopic scale that has huge dimensions in human health."


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