Wellcome Awards: The Most Stunning Medical Images of 2009

Every year, a panel of judges at London's Wellcome Collection of medical photographs selects the best of the year's acquisitions. This striking collection, reproduced here, represents the best medical images of the year.

The 19 images cover a wide variety of subjects and techniques, from the above picture of aspirin crystals to a picture of a seed taken with an electron microscope.

This year's winners show how unexpectedly artistic objects such as your bone, skin, and even your intestine can be, and we've got them all here for you.

Aspirin crystals
In this image, crystals of aspirin, that common drug used to relieve minor aches and pains, look more like psychedelic visuals caused by a totally different kind of drug. [Wellcome Image Awards]M I Walker, Wellcome Images
Mechanical Heart
McConkey imagines the heart as an elaborate machine, connected to the pipes and valves of brass musical instruments. The valves in this image were created from photographs of brass intruments and collaged together digitally, while the heart was converted from a pencil drawing using a computer and placed into the image. [Wellcome Image Awards]Bill McConkey, Wellcome Images
Bird of paradise seed
This strange object is actually a seed from a bird of paradise plant (Strelitzia reginae). This plant is native to South Africa and has a distinctive orange and blue flower, which resembles an exotic bird. The image was taken using an electron microscope. [Wellcome Image Awards]Annie Cavanagh, Wellcome Images
Villi in the small intestine
This is an image of a mouse's small intestine, showing villi. Villi are small finger like projection that cover the internal surface of the small intestine to increase the surface area and assist in digestion. The tips of the villi have been cropped away to show the internal morphology. The protein F-actin, stained red, covers the surface of each villus. The nucleus of each cell is labeled blue. [Wellcome Image Awards]Paul Appleton, Wellcome Images
Skin cells from burn
This electron microscope image shows the wrinkly surfaces of skin cells from the blistered area of a burn. The cells in the image were all at one stage completely blistered. [Wellcome Image Awards]Anne Weston, Wellcome Images
Lung cancer cell
This image shows a single cell grown from a culture of lung epithelial carcinoma (cancer) cells. The purple area shows the formation of irregular bulges in the cell membrane, in a process called blebbing. Blebbing is important in a variety of cellular processes. The green area shows an area of the cell where the blebbing is not occurring or is not visible. [Wellcome Image Awards]Anne Weston, Wellcome Images
Compact bone
This watercolor-like image shows a part of the human thigh bone. Specifically, it shows the compact bone, which provides strength and rigidity and is solid in appearance. Shown in red are Haversian canals, part of the compact bone's intricate circulatory network. The tiny black spaces shown in this image are due to the loss of living bone cells during processing, leaving holes within the bone. [Wellcome Image Awards]Ivor Mason, Wellcome Images
Capillary network
This striking image actually shows part of an ox's eye, and the capillaries in it. Capillaries are small blood vessels, which act as the connective network between arteries and veins. The capillaries have been made visible by injection of an insoluble dye into the artery that supplied them. [Wellcome Image Awards]M I Walker, Wellcome Images
Sensory nerve ending of hair follicle
Rather than a ghostly jellyfish, this image highlights the sensory nerve endings at the end of a hair follicle. Sensory nerves are nerves that sense movement, pressure and pain. Stained in black are the fiber-like extensions of the nerve cells, called axons. [Wellcome Image Awards]M I Walker, Wellcome Images
Microparticle drug delivery
These orange and blue balls represent electron microscope images of co-polymers. These are used for a drug delivery system known as particle in particle. The inner particle, shown in orange, is loaded with the drug prednisolone, used to treat inflammatory bowel disease. The outer particle, in blue, is a co-polymer which encapsulates the inner particle. Polymers can be used to coat a drug to prevent it being released in the stomach, or to produce a slow release of drug. [Wellcome Image Awards]Annie Cavanagh, Wellcome Images
Engineering DNA
Genetic engineering hasn't yet reached the point where groups of scientists stand around a giant piece of DNA to modify it. But this digitally created artwork shows the artist's conception of scientists manipulating DNA using futuristic technology. Genetic modification can be used to cut out selected pieces of DNA (or genes) using special enzymes. These enzymes can manipulate DNA, cutting and joining pieces together in order to modify it and define certain characteristics. [Wellcome Image Awards]Oliver Burston, Wellcome Images
Professor Sir Harold Kroto FRS
Professor Sir Harold Kroto FRS, recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, sitting in one of the seminar rooms of the University of Sussex on the day after his Nobel Prize was announced. He won the prize with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley for their discovery of C60 (Bucky balls) and other Fullerenes, models of which are shown in the foreground. [Wellcome Image Awards]Anne-Katrin Purkiss, Wellcome Images
A Tibetan doctor holding his family's medical texts
This photograph shows a Tibetan doctor standing on the roof of his house holding two precious medical books. One is a copy of the fundamental Tibetan medical classic Gyu Shi ('Four Tantras') written in the 12th century; the other is a manuscript on compounding medicines, which was composed by the members of his medical family (going back four generations) and takes into account the knowledge the doctors of this lineage have gained through trial and error. The photo was taken in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, China, in 2003. [Wellcome Image Awards]Theresia Hofer, Wellcome Images
Premature baby in incubator
Medical equipment surrounds this premature baby in an incubator. A ventilator allows the neonate to breathe efficiently while a monitor checks the oxygen concentration in the bloodstream. Other monitoring apparatus ensures that the heart rate remains constant. Central lines allow the easy administration of fluids and medication through the navel, and the neonate can receive necessary antibiotics through blood vessels in the arm. [Wellcome Image Awards]Wellcome Photo Library
Sickle-cell anaemia
This image shows two red blood cells: a normal red blood cell (colored red in the background) and a red blood cell affected by sickle-cell anemia (in the foreground). Sickle-cell anemia is a blood disease that causes the cell to form a characteristic sickle-shape. This change in shape affects the cell's ability to transport oxygen. [Wellcome Image Awards]'EM Unit, UCL Medical School, Royal Free Campus', Wellcome Images
Egg and sperm
What looks like an artist's rendering of the sun is actually a human egg cell. The egg cell is much larger than the sperm attached to it, and is surrounded by protective cells around its outside surface (shown in yellow). The brown membrane surrounding the egg cell is the zona pellucida. The head of the sperm carries special enzymes to dissolve this membrane, which it must do in order to fertilise the egg. [Wellcome Image Awards]M I Walker, Wellcome Images
Mouse liver with blood cells
This electron microscope image shows the internal structure and specialist regions of liver tissue from an adult mouse. Red blood cells and specialist immune cells are seen in the sinusoids, pink structures running through the tissue for circulation. Liver cells, shown in brown, are arranged in plates surrounding the sinusoids. Bile is secreted into the green channels between adjacent hepatocytes on its way to the small intestine. [Wellcome Image Awards]Jackie Lewin, Wellcome Images
Developing mouse head
These three alien heads all represent 3D images of a developing embryonic mouse head. The images were created using 3D reconstruction of high resolution episcopic microscopy (HREM) data. Computer software can be used to visualize or highlight different structures within the head. [Wellcome Image Awards]NIMR, MRC, Wellcome Images
Summer Plankton
These abstract shapes are actually plankton. Plankton are small drifting organisms, plant or animal, that have very little or no locomotive ability. They are split into two main catagories: plant plankton that drift close to the water surface and rely on photosynthesis for energy, and animal plankton that normally feed on other plankton. [Wellcome Image Awards]M I Walker, Wellcome Images