Science museum holds cancer event

Researchers will be on hand to answer questions and give demonstrations.

by Naomi Scott

A fish that could help stop tumor growth in humans will be part of Saturday’s fifth annual Cancer and the Human Body event at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.

Stephen Ekker, the University professor who is researching the fish, is part of a group of University researchers, nurses and physicians who will staff exhibits and answer questions about cancer at the event.

The concept of cancer is often difficult for many people to grasp, said Marva Bohen, outreach education director at the University Cancer Center.

“It’s hard for people to imagine what actually is happening in the body when they get a cancer and why it is so disruptive to the organs it forms in,” Bohen said.

Ekker’s research explores how a gene in zebrafish, when blocked, stops blood-vessel development. Because tumors form by creating blood vessels, the gene can be targeted to stop tumor growth.

The 2-centimeters- to 3-centimeters-long zebrafish are model organisms, because they hatch and have fully operational organs and cardiovascular systems within two days, said Ekker, a professor of genetics, cell biology and development. Also, blood-vessel development uses the same genetic pathways in zebrafish and humans, he said.

“The goal is to make a small chemical inhibitor for the gene found in the fish as a potential new cancer treatment,” he said.

Also presenting research at the event will be Susanta Hui, University professor of therapeutic radiology. Hui works with a new type of radiation treatment that allows doctors to target the exact location of a tumor, so the radiation dose is delivered only where it is necessary. This minimizes damage to surrounding healthy tissues, he said.

An advantage of the treatment is it can be used to treat many tumors in the body with precision, Hui said.

Bohen said a popular exhibit at the event has been of three types of lung tissue – one sample is healthy, another has a tumor and the final sample has been damaged by emphysema.

Children with cancer typically attend the event and get to see what their cancers look like up close, she said.

Because leukemia is a common cancer in children, a pathologist plans to bring leukemia cells to the event, Bohen said.