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Art Hackett Interviews

Artist and Geneticist, Hunter O'Reilly on

WeekEnd,

a Wisconsin Public Television show on

November 13, 1998.


LOEW:

DR. NORMAN FOST, THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR JOINING US. WELL, THE FOLKS DOING STEM CELL RESEARCH AREN'T THE ONLY GENETICISTS MAKING NEWS THESE DAYS. A GRADUATE RESEARCHER AT THE UW-MADISON'S MCARDLE CANCER LAB RECENTLY SENT US HER PRESS KIT. IT WOUND UP ON ART HACKETT'S DESK WHO FOUND OUT THE STORY OF HUNTER O'REILLY INVOLVED MORE THAN MICROSCOPE.


ART HACKETT:

TO HER BENCH MATES IN THE McCARDLE CANCER LAB, SHE IS KNOWN AS GAYLE O'REILLY (A.K.A. HUNTER O'REILLY). SHE IS COMPLETING HER DOCTORATE IN GENETICS, WORKING ON BREAST CANCER RESEARCH. SHE INTENTIONALLY ALTERS THE D.N.A. OF BREAST CANCER CELLS, THE PART OF THE CHROMOSOMES THAT CONNECTS UP WITH THE FEMALE HORMONE ESTROGEN.


GAYLE O'REILLY (A.K.A. HUNTER O'REILLY):

THERE IS A LOT OF BREAST CANCER TISSUES THAT HAVE ABNORMALITIES OR MUTATIONS WITH ESTROGEN RECEPTORS. BUT THERE ARE OTHER TISSUES THAT THEY CAN'T FIND ANY ABNORMALITIES WITH THE ESTROGEN RECEPTOR, SO IT'S POSSIBLE THAT SOME CAUSES OF BREAST CANCER MAY BE RELATED TO THIS HUMAN ESTROGEN RECEPTOR OR SOMETHING GOING WRONG WITH THAT.


HACKETT:

O'REILLY ANALYZES THE D.N.A. BY SEPARATING IT, MIXING IT INTO A GEL, AND RUNNING AN ELECTRIC CURRENT THROUGH IT. THIS CAUSES IT TO SEPARATE OUT INTO THE PATTERN OF BANDS WE ALL REMEMBER FROM THE O.J. TRIAL. LIKE A LOT OF SCIENTISTS' EFFORTS, THIS TAKES TIME. WHILE SHE WAITS, GAYLE O'REILLY, LIKE A LOT OF OTHER PEOPLE WITH TIME ON THEIR HANDS, DOODLES ON HER WORK BENCH.


O'REILLY:

THIS ONE RIGHT HERE, YOU KNOW, I JUST KIND OF STARTED WITH A FEW DIFFERENT LINES. BUT WHAT IT KIND OF FORMED TO ME, WHEN I WAS FINISHING IT, WAS ACTUALLY KIND OF A WOMAN. SO THIS KIND OF BEING THE HEAD, HERE, AND THIS BEING LIKE THE BODY. KIND OF ALMOST MERMAID LIKE OR SOMETHING.


HACKETT:

THE POST-IT NOTES PASTED ABOVE HER WORK STATION SOMETIMES PRESERVE CHEMICAL FORMULAS, SOMETIMES SKETCHES. OPERATING UNDER THE NOM DE PINCEAU "HUNTER O'REILLY" THIS GENETICIST HOLDS A DISTINCTION IN THE PRESTIGIOUS MCARDLE LAB. SHE IS THE FIRST RESEARCHER TO HAVE HER ART WORK FEATURED ON THE COVER OF A SCIENTIFIC JOURNAL BEFORE HER RESEARCH IS PUBLISHED INSIDE. THIS WEEK, AN EXHIBIT OF HUNTER O'REILLY'S WORK OPENED AT THE SUNROOM CAFE ON STATE STREET IN MADISON. IT WAS AN UNUSUAL OPENING. NO SMALL TALK ON WHO'S TRENDY ON THE LOCAL ART SCENE. EAVESDROPPING YIELDED COMMENTS ON FRUIT FLIES.

O'REILLY:

AS, YOU KNOW, YOU WORK IN THE LAB, TOO, AND I DO A LOT OF TISSUE CULTURE WORK, WHERE CELLS ARE GROWING IN A MONO LAYER IN A DISH AND THERE ARE A LOT OF PATTERNS WITH CELLS CONNECTING IN DIFFERENT, RANDOM WAYS. SO IN MY ART WORK I HAVE A LOT OF CONNECTIONS. BUT I KIND OF SEE FACES OR FORMS IN THEM.

HACKETT:

DO PEOPLE EVER TELL YOU THE FACE ON THE LEFT LOOKS LIKE ELVIS? [LAUGHTER]

O'REILLY:

I HAVE HAD A COUPLE PEOPLE SAY THAT.

HACKETT:

CELLS HAVE SHOWN UP IN THE ART WORLD BEFORE. CARTOONIST GARY LARSON MADE A PRETTY GOOD LIVING DRAWING THEM. BUT THEY WERE MOSTLY SINGLE CELLS. THAT SINGULARITY IS THE PUNCHLINE OF THE JOKE.

O'REILLY:

AMOEBAS-- THERE ARE A LOT OF DIFFERENT SINGLE-CELL ORGANISMS LIKE AMOEBAS, THAT DO AND CAN KIND OF EXIST LIKE IN ISOLATION, BUT THE KIND OF CELLS THAT I WORK WITH, MAMALLIAN CELLS THAT ARE GROWING ON A DISH, IN A TISSUE CULTURE-- THOSE TYPE OF CELLS KIND OF GROW TOGETHER IN A MASS. AND THEY'RE ALL CONNECTED, EACH TO ONE ANOTHER.

HACKETT:

PERHAPS BECAUSE SHE'S WORKING WITH BREAST CANCER TISSUE, HUNTER O'REILLY FREQUENTLY SEES FEMALE FACES AND FORMS IN THOSE CONNECTIONS.

O'REILLY:

A LOT OF THE WORK YOU DO IN SCIENCE AND LABORATORIES IS VERY TEDIOUS AND VERY PRECISE. IT'S KIND OF A RELEASE, TOO, AFTER SOME OF THE LABORATORY WORK OF THE DAY TO LET OUT SOME PERSONAL EXPRESSION.

HACKETT:

O'REILLY WAS INTERESTED IN SCIENCE LONG BEFORE SHE STARTED PAINTING. SHE BECAME INTERESTED IN ART WHEN HER FATHER TOOK HER TO FRANCE AND SHE SAW THE ORIGINALS OF WORKS WITH WHICH SHE HAD LONG BEEN FAMILIAR. O'REILLY EXPECTS TO RECEIVE HER DOCTORATE NEXT SPRING. AT THAT TIME HER RESEARCH, SHE HOPES, WILL BE PUBLISHED. SHE CONTINUES TO PROMOTE HER ART FOR JOURNAL COVERS.


HACKETT:

SO WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP? [LAUGHTER]

O'REILLY:

SO FAR I'M TRYING TO INTEGRATE BOTH. IT CAN BE A LITTLE DIFFICULT ON THE TIME, BUT IT'S WHAT I'M TRYING TO DO. HOPEFULLY, I'D LIKE, IN THE LONG RUN, TO BE A LECTURER, A PROFESSOR, AND TEACH
STUDENTS ABOUT GENETICS. I'D ALSO LIKE TO STILL HAVE TIME FOR THE ART WORK, BECAUSE I HAVE A REAL PASSION FOR THE ART WORK. AND IT'S SOMETHING I REALLY FEEL THAT I WILL DO FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.


LOEW:

HUNTER O'REILLY'S PAINTINGS WILL BE ON DISPLAY AT THE SUNROOM CAFE IN MADISON THROUGH JANUARY 3.

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