This painting depicts HeLa cells. For those of you who do not know what a HeLa cell is you should read the book the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lachs. The cells were named after her and are an immortal cell line used for decades in research. In fact it is the oldest cell line used in research. The cell line was derived cervical cancer cells from a patient, Henrietta Lachs. Her story is interesting. The cells were taken without her knowledge in the early 50s. At that time permissions from patients in research was not the standard of practice it is today. Informed consent is now required for all clinical research with investigators required to tell you details of the project and potential risks. We have review boards that approve all research prior to the start of any experiment.

Some interesting facts about HeLa cells.

  1. Jonas Salk used HeLa cells were used to test the polio vaccine.
  2. HeLa cells were the first cells cloned-1955
  3. There are more than 75,000 papers published using HeLa cells.
  4. HeLa cells have gone into space.
  5. HeLa cells have been subjected to nuclear testing.




Cancer cell

Cancer cell

Despite the nasty consequences of cancer cells, they certainly can be beautiful.

Cancer involves abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. Cancer is a group of diseases with over 100 different types.

There are about 14 million new cases of cancer per year globally causing about 8 million deaths – 15% of all deaths.

Treatment for many forms of cancer has improved exponentially over the last few decades, decreasing the number of deaths caused by cancer. Because cancer is is a group of diseases it is unlikely there will ever be a single “cure”.


Pain gene

Painting representing the DNA for a gene involved in musculoskeletal pain. The letters are the DNA code for the gene, acid sensing ion channel 3  (ASIC3). The structure in the middle is a DNA helix. From this genetic code cells make a protein to eventually get expressed in pain receptors. My laboratory has spent many years trying to understand how ASIC3 mediates chronic musculoskeletal pain. It is an ion channel found on pain receptors in muscles and joints. When activated, by decreases in pH, it send signals to the central nervous system transmitting the pain signals to the brain. We have shown that this gene mediates pain associated with inflammation, chronic muscle pain, and exercise-induced pain. After injury the pain cells increase their production of this gene resulting in more protein in the pain cells of joints and muscles. Blocking ASIC3 can reduce muscle and joint pain. Our goal is to determine if this is a good potential new target to use to treat chronic and inflammatory pain.

Brain Power

This painting is a picture of multiple neurons. There are local interneurons, the smaller dark green neurons, and neurons that send their signals some distance away. They do this through axons, shown as the long processes going toward the top of the painting. Neurons are composed of their cell bodies, round and triangular, which integrate signals, contain the nucleus with the DNA, and make all the proteins that make the cell function. They have dendrites extending from the cell body that receive input from other neurons, shorter processes. Lastly, they have axons that extend from their cell body to carry their messages to other neurons and in some cases very far away. The longest axons go from the big toe up to a brain region at the base of the brain in the medulla called the nucleus gracilis. Neurons are the most amazing cells in the body and are responsible for nearly everything we do and think. They control movement, sensations like touch and site, learning and memory, our organs like the heart, and even our emotions.

Size: 16″x20″

Metallic Neurons

This image represents multiple neurons interacting with other neurons. Neurons making millions of connections with other neurons and there are billions of connections between neurons throughout the brain. This is an abstract painting of neurons. This was my initial experimentation with metallic paints, which I love but they do not photograph as well as I would like.Image result for featured

Size: 8″x10″


This painting was featured on the cover of the Journal of Pain in September 2016.



Bitter Sweet


This image represents taste cells. A taste receptor is a type of receptor found on the tongue that mediates the sensation of taste, one of our 5 special senses. When food or other substances enter specific molecules interact with saliva and bind to the taste receptors. The purple, blue, green and pink cells represent different types of taste receptors found in a single taste bud.

The average person has about 10,000 taste buds that are replaced about every two weeks. Multiple types of taste receptors are found in a single taste buds. There are 5 basic tastes: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami. Salty and sour taste sensations are both detected through ion channels. Sweet, bitter, and umami tastes, however, are detected by way of G protein-coupled taste receptors.

The taste cells are innervated by sensory nerves (yellow) that transmit the signals from the taste cell to the brain. The brain decodes the signals from different taste cells to provide the complex sensation of taste.

We have all seen the figures that different sensations are found on different areas of the tongue. This is a myth. The five basic tastes identified so far – salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami- can be sensed on any area of the tongue. And each taste bud contains multiple types of taste receptors so that each taste bud can sense all 5 basic tastes.


16″ x 20″


This is a depiction of the rods and cones of the eye; they are specialized neurons found in the retina that are responsible for vision. The human retina contains about 120 million rod cells and 6 million cone cells. Thesphotoreceptor cells convert light to electrical signals to send information to the occipital lobe of the cerebral cortex so that we can see. Rods are the most numerous photoreceptor cell, depicted here in black and white, are activated at very low light levels. Cones, depicted in colors, are responsible for color vision. Red cones are the most numerous, followed by green and then blue. Activation of cones requires significantly more light, and thus the reason we do not see color at night is that these photoreceptors are not activated. The signals from the rods and cones is transmitted through bipolar cells, depicted in the bottom of the picture, to the optic nerve. Pigmented epithelial cells, depicted on the top of the image, provide structure and nourishment to the photoreceptors.

Size 16″x20″

Golden Neuron

Pyramidal neurons of the cortex painted on a golden background. Pyramidal neurons all have a very organized structure with a triangular shaped cell body and are among the largest neurons in the brain. Basal dendrites spread to deeper areas of the cortex, and one large apical dendrite that extends towards he surface of the cortex. Dendrit a receive input from other neurons to integrate signals from multiple neurons. The pyramidal neurons receive input from multiple neurons with a  single pyramidal neuron  receiving about 30,000 excitatory inputs and 1700 inhibitory inputs. This is my experiment with metallic paint.

Size: 8″x10″


This is a collage representing synapses: both post-synaptic and pre-synaptic. I used my old published papers which are sitting in a file cabinet in my office, cut them into shapes and glued them to canvas. If you are a scientist you will notice that I have the traces of action potentials in the terminals, have used cut the vesicles from immunohistochemistry staining, and depict the receptors from text with specific receptor names.

In the old days, before the digital era, when we published our research in a journal we would receive 25 free copies of the paper on nice glossy paper from the publisher. When a scientist wanted a copy, instead of downloading it from the Internet immediately, we would send a postcard to the author and ask for a copy. Then  the author would put the copy in the mail-it could takes weeks to get some papers to read.

This picture won second placed in the cover art contest at the University of Iowa in 2015

Size: 16″x20″

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