Gail Seigel is a principal investigator living in Rochester, NY. She's working to develop treatments to cure childhood eye cancer.
What do you do?
My group develops new treatments for retinoblastoma, a childhood cancer of the eye. We grow tumor cells in the lab and test different drugs to see which ones work best. Hopefully, these new treatments will not only be successful, but also be less toxic, with fewer side-effects than the treatments being used today.
What are the implications of your work?
My hope is that our research will provide new treatments for eye cancer that will save lives and preserve vision. Most patients get retinoblastoma as children and I would like them to lead long and happy lives, while being able to see the world around them.
What's the coolest thing you've discovered?
I have created new, immortal cells from the eye just by adding a gene that keeps the cells growing forever. Usually, when you take cells from an organism, it will live just a couple of weeks in an incubator. But if a special gene is introduced into the cells, they can grow indefinitely. The gene that I use in my lab is called 12S E1A from Adenovirus. It takes over the cellular machinery and keeps the cells dividing continuously. It only works with rat and mouse cells, not with human cells.
What's your favorite STEM fact?
When you take a helium balloon out into the cold weather, it will shrink. This illustrates the ideal gas law, that colder temperatures will decrease the volume of the gas. Once you get inside again in warmer temperatures, the balloon will expand again.
What's something interesting you were able to experience by being a scientist?
I love to travel as part of my job. I go to conferences to meet up with other scientists. One trip took me to Finland in June, where they get 20 hours of sunlight per day. I walked in the park at 11 pm and it looked just like late afternoon. The opposite happens in the winter, when they get just a few hours of light every day. I'm glad I went in June!
Thank you for working towards a cure for childhood eye cancer! If you’d like to nominate a STEM friend (or yourself), fill out the AweSTEM people form. You’ll also receive jewelry from Circuit Breaker Labs.