Movies, microscopes, metastasis & melanoma

Contributed by Dianne Shaw, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center

Jim Bear’s movies won’t win Oscars, but they may save lives. He makes movies of moving cells, movements that can help or harm the body.

Bear studies cell migration.

“Cell migration is something that’s with us from birth to death. It’s a process that happens during development when we are in the womb. It happens in our immune system when we get an infection and our white blood cells have to migrate to that site of infection. It happens inside of our brains, when neurons make connections with other neurons leading to thoughts and feelings and the things that make us ‘us.’ But it goes wrong in cancer.”

Members of the Bear Lab
Front row: Sarah Creed, Sreeja Asokan, Emma Wu, Heather Aloor
Back row: Jim Bear, Stephen Jones, Brent Hehl, Matt Kuty, Dave Roadcap

Cancer cell movement is how tumors spread or metastasize. Bear’s lab and his colleagues at UNC Lineberger are now studying the migratory process of metastasis in the lab and have learned that as in human melanomas, metastasis targets the same places- the lungs and the brain.

Bear has a personal interest in melanoma. His father died of the disease when Jim was in graduate school, and his death motivates Jim: “I want to do something about this disease to make it so that other people don’t have to go through this.”

A Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist Award winner, Bear is probing the steps of cell motility- how cells move- with a goal of using that knowledge to derail cancer metastasis. He conducts research on a family of proteins called coronins.

“We think these proteins have been with us for nearly a billion years on planet earth. To me, something that’s that old is doing something interesting, even if we don’t understand it. That was one of the bases on which I founded my lab.”

Coronins regulate cell migration both at the leading edge of the movement and at the point of disassembling the cell as it unattaches and moves.

Watch videos

  • In this video interview Dr. Bear talks about how he got interested in becoming a scientist and a builder of microscopes to capture cell movement. Watch now
  • In this video presentation, Dr. Bear discusses cell movement and the proteins actin and coronin. Watch now
  • This set of videos provides a tutorial on the four steps of cell movement, with cell movies narrated by Dr. Bear.

Learn more about Dr. Bear’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist Award: and

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