To study molecules that slow the spread of cancer, scientists repeat, repeat, repeat


  • Johanna Joyce (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Cancer Biology & Genetics Program)
  • Sara Morawetz (Multi-Disciplinary Art)


The Joyce Lab is interested in the critical influence of certain types of non-cancerous cells that exist in tissues in close proximity to cancerous cells on tumor progression and response to cancer therapy. They have found that both non-cancerous stromal cells and immune cells in the tumor tissue environment contribute significantly to both tumor growth and the ability of certain tumor types to travel & grow in other locations throughout the body, a process called metastasis. The Joyce lab studies a specific molecule called Cathepsin S, that is an enzyme peptidase which degrades other proteins. They have found that Cathepsin S is a modulator of site-specific metastasis, regulating breast-to-brain metastasis. Immune cells (macrophages) & tumor cells produce Cathepsin S and only combined depletion in both cells can reduce brain metastasis. Pharmacological (drug based) inhibition of Cathepsin S significantly reduced brain metastasis demonstrating its potential as a drug target for brain cancer and possibly other types of cancer. This type of work has the potential to revolutionize the way cancer is treated because instead of just attacking the tumor itself one can begin to devise ways to also attack key players in the tumor environment that provide critical signals to cancer cells.

To an artist the experience of the lab is at once complex yet clear — foreign yet familiar – an endless series of discrete tasks, transparent in isolation, but that collectively conceal a degree of consequence that only a lifetime of study could truly reveal. The lab itself is an organism, a system in play – things are moved and manipulated, tested and tested again. An endless succession of repeats that both compel and mystify. In this impenetrable system of rigor and repetition nature reveals its abstruse beauty – an unintended emergent entity.

"repeat, repeat" created for Art of Science is a response to the artists observations of the act of research undertaken by Dr. Johanna Joyce and her team at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. repeat, repeat is an acknowledgement of the singular repeated act required of scientific research so often obscured by the vast complexities of a broader investigation. Completed in chalk to signal the re-education process that is implicit in their research, these works are a tribute to the microenvironment and the impact an individual element / action may have on their compositions.


Sara Morawetz

Multi-Disciplinary Art

Sara Morawetz is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work explores intersections between art, science, philosophy and methodology. She graduated from Sydney College of the Arts with a BFA in Photomedia (Honours First Class). She has been the recipient of numerous awards including the Dobell Foundation Scholarship, University of Sydney Honours Scholarship, and the Chancellor Committee Scholarship. Sara also attended the Glasgow School of Art, Scotland as part of an international exchange program. In 2005, she was awarded a Marten Bequest Traveling Scholarship, which she used to undertake an Artist Residency with Red Gate Gallery in Beijing, China (2006) and an Audience Development and Arts Management Program in New York City in 2008. Sara is currently a PhD candidate at Sydney College of the Arts and is supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award Scholarship.

Johanna Joyce

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Cancer Biology & Genetics Program

Cancers develop in complex tissue environments, which they depend upon for sustained growth, invasion into surrounding tissue ultimately leading to metastasis, which is defined by cancer cells spreading throughout the body. The tumor microenvironment is made of many different types of cells including immune cells, fibroblasts, vascular networks, and extracellular matrix, which collectively can be referred to as stromal cells or stroma. The tissue microenvironment, made up of these many different types of stromal cells, has critical modulatory functions in tumor development and metastasis.

The Joyce lab is interested in the critical influence that these non-cancerous stromal cells can have on tumor progression and response to therapy. The lab investigates both positive (growth promoting) and negative (growth blocking) signals provided by the normal tissue stroma to the cancer cells, and how normal cells can be modified by the cancer cells to produce a variety of factors that enhance tumor malignancy. One of the critical regulatory cell types in the microenvironment are a type of immune cell called a macrophage or tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs). And, TAMs have a potent ability to promote tumor progression.

A major current focus of the lab is to understand the mechanisms by which stromal cells regulate the later stages of tumor progression, namely invasion and metastasis. Moreover, emerging evidence indicates that stromal cells are mobilized and activated following anti-cancer therapy, and apparently contribute to a lack of response/ resistance to treatment. The Joyce lab employs a range of complementary approaches to address these questions including mouse models of cancer, 3D co-culture systems, and analysis of patient samples in collaboration with clinical colleagues in order to better understand how the results in the lab corresponds to what is happening in patients. The ultimate goal of Johanna’s lab is to apply this knowledge to the clinic via the development of targeted therapies that disrupt essential tumor-stromal interactions.