Snapshots of Life: A Van Gogh Moment for Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer

Credit: Nathan Krah, University of Utah,
Salt Lake City

Last year, Nathan Krah sat down at his microscope to view a thin section of pre-cancerous pancreatic tissue from mice. Krah, an MD/PhD student in the NIH-supported lab of Charles Murtaugh at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, had stained the tissue with three dyes, each labelling a different target of interest. As Krah leaned forward to look through the viewfinder, he fully expected to see the usual scattershot of color. Instead, he saw enchanting swirls reminiscent of the famous van Gogh painting, The Starry Night.

In this eye-catching image featured in the University of Utah’s 2016 Research as Art exhibition, red indicates a keratin protein found in the cytoskeleton of precancerous cells; green, a cell adhesion protein called E-cadherin; and yellow, areas where both proteins are present. Finally, blue marks the cell nuclei of the abundant immune cells and fibroblasts that have expanded and infiltrated the organ as a tumor is forming. Together, they paint a fascinating new portrait of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most common form of pancreatic cancer.

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LabTV: Curious about Pancreatic Cancer

Lindsey Briton

Growing up in Blacksburg, VA, Lindsey Brinton was constantly asking her parents how everything worked. She took this expansive natural curiosity with her to the University of Virginia, where she earned undergraduate degrees in French literature and biomedical engineering. Now a Ph.D. candidate at UVA in the lab of Kimberly Kelly—and the subject of our latest LabTV video—Brinton is posing interesting questions about pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat, in part, because it often spreads early and is diagnosed too late. Brinton’s research is focused on the cells that surround the tumor, the so-called stroma, and on the risk of metastasis. She wonders whether these cells display unique targets on their surface that, once discovered, can be exploited to kill the tumor cells. It’s certainly challenging research. Failures far outnumber successes. But as Brinton points out, endurance, perseverance, and keeping your eye on the big picture can lead to success.

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Lessons from a High School Student: Motivation + Perseverance = Success

Emily Ashkin Video

It may surprise you to learn that the poised young woman featured in this video was a sophomore in high school at the time the film was made. Today, Emily Ashkin is a high school senior with impressive laboratory experience and science awards to her name.  As it happens, she’s also introducing me when I deliver a keynote address at the Melanoma Research Alliance’s annual scientific meeting — today, here in Washington, D.C.

What struck me most when I heard Emily’s story was her fearlessness. When mentoring young students, helping some to believe in themselves can be a real challenge. Not Emily. She faces her challenges by seeking solutions, asking—as she does in the video—“Why can’t that be me?”

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