Researchers have found a way to turn an ugly disease into beautiful artwork.
Scientists at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the world’s oldest cancer research center, are injecting fluorescent jellyfish proteins into cancer cells and tumours, and the results have created images so stunning that they’re giving others the chance to see them.
While the microphotography is beautiful, it also serves a purpose: the fluorescent cells help Drs. Heinz Baumann and Kenneth Gross colour-code cancer cells and track how they behave over time.
Here’s how it works.
Baumann and Gross will inject a colour, like yellow, into a cell and monitor it over time. They can see how tumours progress, the behaviour of tumour cells and trace the genetic origin of tumours.
'I am always trying to emphasise that these images are more than just decoration,' Baumann said. 'What we use it for is a tool to follow the biology of cancers. The colours you see are the markers or the tracers.'
After tumours are colour-coded, the doctors perform gene sequencing to understand what genes might be contributing to a tumour cell becoming cancerous.
The doctors try to understand which genes are broken in a sequence and what might be making cancer rates higher. They also study cancerous cells against non-cancerous cells to understand what makes them different.
'I have talked to layman, like my family, and they ask me all the time, 'what are you doing at work?'' Gross said. 'I find that being able to show them with these coloured pictures, I can explain my work in a very graphic way to them where they can immediately see the significance of the statements that I'm making. A picture is worth 1,000 words.'
Gross and Baumann's images are part of a collection of 200 works of art hanging in the hospital's new clinical sciences center, so patients and doctors can view them while walking the hallways.