Caught in a trap

2017-08-10 113044 crop2

13th September 2017 – 10th January 2018

Opening evening 13th September 2017 5-6pm

There will be a short talk and discussion about the project by Josefine Hirschfeld. Light refreshments will be available and the event is free.


Workshop 26th October 2017 2-5pm

Josefine Hirschfeld and Nina Vyas will run a workshop where you can paint images inspired by the exhibition using watercolour techniques. The event is free.


On display in Caught in a trap will be artwork developed around the understanding of how the immune system, particularly white blood cells called neutrophils, works. Unique enamels and watercolours were made in response to images captured of these white blood cells defending against bacteria found in the mouth.

About two thirds of our white blood cells are neutrophils, and they migrate from the blood stream into the gum tissues, from where they enter the oral cavity in high numbers every minute. Here they constantly fight microbes that may cause harm to our gums, teeth or whole body. One of the defence mechanisms they use is the expulsion of web-like structures called Neutrophil Extracellular Traps or NETs. NETs are made from DNA and can trap and inactivate harmful bacteria and fungi preventing their spread into the tissues and blood stream. They were discovered only recently in 20041, and Josefine has been working on them here in Birmingham within the Periodontal Research Group2-4.

Neutrophils can be isolated from the blood and observed under different types of microscopes. The images in our exhibition show neutrophils and NETs in a 2000 – 4000x magnification, stained with a fluorescent dye, which binds to the DNA of these cells. Moreover, an electron microscopic image is shown, where these structures can be seen in a 10,000x magnification.

Scientist Josefine Hirschfeld (University of Birmingham’s School of Dentistry) worked with enamel artist Teresa Kent ( to create enamelled copper plates. Nina Vyas created the watercolour seen alongside the enamels.

The work stems from research carried out by Josefine Hirschfeld and the Periodontal Research Group at the Birmingham Dental Hospital

  1. Brinkmann V, Reichard U, Goosmann C, Fauler B, Uhlemann Y, Weiss DS, Weinrauch Y, Zychlinsky A. Neutrophil extracellular traps kill bacteria. Science. 2004 Mar 5;303(5663):1532-5.
  2. White PC, Chicca IJ, Ling MR, Wright HJ, Cooper PR, Milward MR, Chapple IL. Characterization, Quantification, and Visualization of Neutrophil Extracellular Traps. Methods Mol Biol. 2017;1537:481-497.
  3. Hirschfeld J, Roberts HM, Chapple IL, Parcina M, Jepsen S, Johansson A,Claesson R. Effects of Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans leukotoxin on neutrophil migration and extracellular trap formation. J Oral Microbiol. 2016; 8:33070.
  4. White P, Sakellari D, Roberts H, Risafi I, Ling M, Cooper P, Milward M, Chapple I. Peripheral blood neutrophil extracellular trap production and degradation in chronic periodontitis. J Clin Periodontol. 2016;43(12):1041-1049.
  5. Hirschfeld J, Dommisch H, Skora P, et al. Neutrophil extracellular trap formation in supragingival biofilms. IJMM 2015;305(4-5):453-63.


This exhibition is supported by the Alumni Impact Fund, University of Birmingham