Cancer, Cameras and a World of Details: A Scientist’s Artful Hobby

November 15, 2016 6:00 AM
Details of a cancer tumor cell under the microscope

When he isn’t researching cancer cures, one U-M clinician finds similar gratification through photography.

A photographer sees the world through the camera lens. A scientist sees cancer through the microscope.

Mukesh Nyati, Ph.D., does both.

And in each pursuit, it’s all about the details.

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An associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan Health System, Nyati has spent nearly two decades working to understand the human proteins that start the process of cancer, as well as those that cause the disease to progress.

His goal is twofold: to identify cancer patients early in radiation treatment who are likely to respond to drugs that target these proteins, and to develop drugs to stop the proteins that promote cancer growth.

“As a cancer scientist, it is a fascinating chase,” Nyati says.

Mukesh Nyati Ph.D., professor of radiation oncology and photographer

Dual dedication

His watchful eye extends beyond the lab.

Nyati’s colleagues first noticed an incredible photograph online of the UMHS Frankel Cardiovascular Center at daybreak. They then found out that Nyati is a serious photography hobbyist, with a Facebook page dedicated to his after-hours passion.

SEE ALSO: Portraits of Progress: A Cancer Patient Documents His Treatment

The hobby is a longtime one. Nyati has been honing his photography skills for 20 years, capturing images of the buildings at work, his home near Ann Arbor and his travels around the world.

“I love to click people’s portraits, flowers, bugs, birds, the sun or moon,” Nyati says. “When I analyze these pictures in depth, I find that each object is so much more than I can imagine.”

It’s no surprise, then, that such perception extends to his professional life.

Understanding how a drug or radiation therapy affects proteins at a cellular level involves a deep scrutiny of details brought to life in color under a microscope. His efforts are focused on treatments that effectively target tumors and have the least impact on normal tissue.

Nyati finds his work “scientifically interesting but aesthetically fascinating as well.”

His intrigue comes from how similar all cancers are, yet also how each tumor cell is unique and continues to evolve.

It is in these details, he hopes, that cancer cures will be discovered.

See some of Nyati’s favorite photographs here.