She wasn’t the only one who immediately saw a globe in this microscopic photo. “It was remarkable to see others make the same connection without me having to tell them about it,” said Maeve Grifhorst, who interns in the Jacco van Rheenen group. A globe with an apocalyptic touch. “It does look like the earth is on fire. And that seemed appropriate considering the way cancer affects people’s lives.
Maeve investigated the way cancer cells compete with healthy cells. She studied lab-grown miniature organs – organoids – to see how cancer cells influence healthy cells, just like Saskia Suijkerbuijk’s work. Saskia won the last NKI microscopy image contest and showed that intestinal cancer cells can kill their neighboring cells to promote their own growth. Understanding the process behind this could potentially lead to new therapies.
Maeve’s winning image shows one of these organoids. This one consists of healthy cells from the small intestine of a mouse and intestinal cancer cells (green). The nuclei of all these cells are blue and the red ‘flames’ show the activity of the Ly6a gene. Why that particular gene? If a small intestine is damaged, this gene ensures that the intestines can recover. In the long term, however, this can be harmful to healthy intestinal cells, causing them to function less well. Cancer cells can benefit from this. In organoids containing cancer cells, this Ly6a gene appears to be much more active than in the miniature intestines consisting of only healthy cells.