Healthy Living: 3D human cell model could unlock answers in cancer fight

If you have taken a drive through South Lake Union in Seattle, chances are you have passed by the Allen Institute for Cell Science.  Now researchers behind those walls have released the first comprehensive 3D model of human cell division called the Integrated Mitotic Stem Cell.  The hope is that detailed 3D models will give scientists a baseline to study cells and eventually lead to a better understanding of diseases like cancer.

"We want to understand the cell and all of it's parts and how they come together while the cell does it's thing," said Susanne Rafelski, Ph.D., Director of Assay Development at the Allen Institute for Cell Science. "In the case of mitosis we're interested in how the structures get coordinated and move around each other and direct each other to permit the cells to divide."

Rafelski likens the process to understanding a city and how to get around.  Take Seattle for example... if you want to understand the city, you look at landmarks like factories and power plants, but you also need to know where Greenlake and Amazon are located.  In addition you have to take into account the location of schools, parks and traffic flow.  The more you know about that city, the easier it is to get around.  The same is true for a human cell and by understanding the structure, you can map out why things happen when they do.

The new images provide a holistic view of a cell as it divides, a process called mitosis.  Rafelski and her team believe it could unlock answers into why some people get cancer and others don't.  Which is why researchers at the Allen Institute for Cell Science are sharing their data with scientists around the world.

"Every little bit helps," said Rafelski.  "We can bring our data to those great minds so they can see those things even we can't imagine they would see.  That's really exciting for us."

Rafelski also has a personal motivation in the research.  She lost her mom to cancer and hopes that her findings will help lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the future.

If you would like to learn more about the Integrated Mitotic Stem Cell click here.

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