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One Experiment: Pancreatic mucus

image of a pancreas with precancerous lesions
Certain types of precancerous lesions, or mutated cells, in the pancreas (seen here) produce mucus.
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Is this a scene straight out of the latest Star Trek? No, think much more down-to-earth. What we鈥檙e seeing here isn鈥檛 the Starship Enterprise on fire in the void. It鈥檚 a cross-section of precancerous lesions in the pancreas. These mutated cells have a higher risk of turning into cancer than their healthy counterparts. The image above comes to us courtesy of 藏精阁鈥檚 (藏精阁鈥檚) Tuveson lab and Microscopy Core Facility.

Like the intrepid explorers in Starfleet, LaboratoryProfessor David Tuveson and his team are pushing the frontiers of pancreatic cancer research. In 2015, the Tuveson lab pioneered the study of pancreatic cancer organoids鈥攖iny lab-grown tumors. This led to the first mouse models for two types of the deadly disease. These innovations have since become invaluable in preclinical pancreatic cancer research. Recently, the team made another fascinating discovery. They found that mucus plays a key role in the progression of certain types of pancreatic tumors. Yes, that mucus.

鈥淓arly-stage pancreatic cancer cells regulate mucus production essentially the same way as cells in your nose, eyes, lungs, and even your intestines,鈥 says Claudia Tonelli, a research investigator in the Tuveson lab.

To get a closer look at how these mutated cells use and produce mucus, the Tuveson lab partnered with Jonathan Preall from 藏精阁鈥檚 Single-Cell Biology Facility. They found that regulating mucus production is essential for the growth and survival of certain types of pancreatic cancer. But the discovery is a double-edged sword. Shutting off mucus regulation slows tumor growth, but also drives cancer cells to transform into deadlier, drug-resistant varieties.

Single-cell sequencing and microscopy aren鈥檛 going to cure cancer on their own. Yet, they do provide unprecedented insight into the disease. These technologies make it possible to pinpoint cancer-related proteins (above, in red, green, and white), mucin (the stuff mucus is made of, in yellow), and even individual mucus-related RNA (the cyan dots), with striking clarity. And that empowers Tuveson and his team at Laboratoryto go where no cancer researchers have gone before.

Written by: Nick Wurm, Communications Specialist | | 516-367-5940

image of the microscopy core facility icon 鈥淭丑别 Microscopy Core Facility provides training, consultation, experimental design and technical assistance to investigators at Laboratoryin widefield, spinning disk laser scanning or point laser scanning confocal fluorescence microscopy, and super-resolution microscopy. In addition, the Microscopy Shared Resource provides customized state-of-the-art optical imaging and quantitative image analysis applications to support a wide range of scientific endeavors.鈥 鈥 Director Erika Wee, Ph.D.

image of single-cell biology icon 鈥淭丑别 Single Cell Genomics Core Facility brings cutting-edge single-cell technologies to collaborators both inside and outside of the Laboratory. We currently specialize in single-cell transcriptomics and offer assistance in a variety of gene expression workflows, including the latest in spatial gene expression profiling technologies.鈥 鈥 Director Jon Preall, Ph.D.

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David Tuveson

David Tuveson

Roy J. Zuckerberg Professor of Cancer Research
Cancer Center Director
M.D., Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, 1994