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Cancer’s battlefield revealed as an array of vibrant colors

January 3, 2012
By

We think we know what cancer looks like.

Abnormal spots on a CT scan. Bald head. Pale, paper-thin skin drooping off brittle bones.

Scientists at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria’s Cancer Research Center routinely observe a totally different view.

Not only are the sub-microscopic images they view flush with possibilities of a cancer cure, they are day-glo colored battles between cancer cells and normal cells. Researchers dye cells and different parts of cells in contrasting fluorescent hues, which allows them to track the spread of cancer cells under powerful, sophisticated microscopes – or to track how effective their research is in either immobilizing the mutant cells or destroying them.

But, magnified thousands of times over and mounted to hang on a wall, they are the other-worldly art work in the hallway of UICOMP’s new $13 million addition for cancer research.

It was Dr. Jasti Rao’s idea to enlarge the images and use them as part of the decor. He is chairman of UICOMP’s cancer biology department, and the images are portraits of the ground-breaking research he and his team have conducted for much of the past decade.

Shades of lavender and purple: Two panels, side-by-side, in speckled shades of lavendars and purples: One evokes the deeply-colored flowing movement of cancerous tumors on the attack. They are human brain cancer cells implanted in mice.

The lavender-shaded panel is an image of the cells after they’ve been treated with a patented gene therapy developed by Rao.

“We’ve been able to eliminate the tumors to a large extent,” says Christopher Gondi, a research assistant professor at UICOMP who works with Rao. “At least, in mice.”

The therapy is being tested for safety in monkeys. If that’s successful, it will be tested in humans.

The Pizza Display: The two-panel display is is a swirl of red, green, black and yellow.

“People call this the pizza display,” Gondi says. But it is human lung cancer cells implanted in mice. While most cancer treatments only target one type of molecule, the differing colors indicate more than one molecule is involved the spread of cancer. In 2010, it was the illustration for the cover of the International Journal of Cancer.

Brain cancer on a petri dish: In this three-panel scene, the purple-colored center is the nucleus of a brain-cancer cell. The red, fibrous strands surrounding it are the cytoskeleton, or skeleton of the cell, as seen in a petri dish. Successive images show how researchers have been able to arrest the spread of cancer cells by causing changes in the cellular skeleton.

Purple and green: The green color is molecules produced by cancer cells adjacent to pancreatic tissue. The image illustrates how cancer cells infiltrate the normal tissue from all sides, as shown in human cancer cells implanted in mice.

Stem cells in a three-panel grouping: The red is a cluster of human umbilical cord stem cells. The green is a cluster of brain cancer cells. The panels show red stem cells surrounding the green cancer tumor cells, eventually destroying them as represented by the color change, from green to yellow, in the cancer cells.

Essentially, most of the images show how Dr. Rao has found ways to cure cancers implanted in mice or in petri dishes.

It’s amazing,” he says. “But it has to work in human patients, then it would be fantastic.”

Pam Adams can be reached at 686-3245 or padams@pjstar.com.

Article source: http://www.pjstar.com/news/x987652831/Cancers-battlefield-revealed-as-an-array-of-vibrant-colors

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