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The Back Cover: Visualizing the Prevention of Cancer

CSD Cancer Center researchers Ajit Varki, Lubor Borsig, and Nissi Varki have obtained evidence that the common anticoagulant drug heparin diminishes metastasis of certain cancers in mice by interfering with interactions between platelets (a type of normal blood cell, shown in blue) and specific surface molecules on tumor cells (green). In the absence of heparin, the platelets form a protective cloak around the tumor cells (inset) and interfere with the work of immune system monocytes (red). This work also indicates that the early phase of these interactions is crucial for metastasis-a process in which tumor cells from the primary site enter the bloodstream, travel to distant tissues and establish new tumors. The UCSD researchers, who reported their work in the March 13 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, say these findings make a compelling argument for initiating clinical trials of heparin in patients with newly diagnosed cancer. Supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute, this work involved an active collaboration with UCSD Cancer Center laboratories for Histology (directed by Nissi Varki) and Digital Imaging (directed by James Feramisco), and with SDSC visualization researchers led by David Nadeau. The collaboration with SDSC is supported by NSF through NPACI's Scalable Visualization Toolkits alpha project. Color movies showing the effects of heparin are available for PNAS subscribers on the journal Web site. The Digital Imaging lab created a 3-D reconstruction of the microscopic data, which was then turned into animated "fly-by" movies using the Scalable Visualization Toolkit software for visualizing complex 3-D objects from large data sets, ranging from cellular structures to the Orion Nebula