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Search Tower dedicated at Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center

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The "Search" Tower at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center.

Healing Arts

The "Search" Tower is part of a series of art projects associated with the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center through the Healing Arts Program and the One Percent for Art Program, in which 1 percent of the cost of building is set aside for art.

Other major art projects include:

  • The Chihuly Sanctuary, given by Suzanne and Walter Scott. The Chihuly Sanctuary is the most comprehensive health care environment structure ever created by world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly.
  • Leslie's Healing Garden, an outdoor, year-round garden made possible with a gift by Marshall and Mona Faith of Omaha. The Faiths' daughter, Leslie, died of cancer more than 60 years ago.

An 82-foot lighted glass tower designed by Omaha artist Jun Kaneko was dedicated during a lighting ceremony on Wednesday near the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center on the UNMC/Nebraska Medicine campus.

The tower, which Kaneko has called "Search," was given by an anonymous donor in honor of Ken Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. Dr. Cowan has served as the cancer center director at UNMC/Nebraska Medicine since 1999.

"The 'Search' Tower is a cornerstone of the Healing Arts Program at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center," Dr. Cowan said. "It will serve as a true guiding light for patients. It fits perfectly into the importance of art and healing."

"Search" is positioned in the middle of a roundabout at 45th Street and Dewey Avenue. The tower itself is actually 75 feet high, but its 7-foot base brings its height to 82 feet.

"It's a beautiful site. It fits perfectly," said Kaneko, who has done art projects around the world.

Fast facts

  • 82-foot tower (75 feet of glass and 7-foot granite pedestal)
  • 1,800 square feet of glass
  • 24,438 pounds of glass; 16,482 pounds of steel
  • 24-foot circumference Dodecagon-shaped tower
  • Hand-cut and ground, hand-blown antique stained glass with color and opaque flash laminated onto 120 carrier safety glass panels.
  • Jun Kaneko has worked with a variety of glass techniques creating artwork for more than 40 years. This is the third project he has created using this technique.
  • Glass is chemically the same as a glaze except light passes though it adding another dimension to the piece.
  • Master glass artisans at Derix Glasstudios in Germany fabricated the tower.
  • The tower is lit at night by interior LED diodes.
  • 7-foot-high Black and Bethel White honed granite pedestal
  • 65-foot roundabout features locally sourced black and gray pavers in radiating concentric rings.

"The cancer center is like a huge creative center. To be next to that kind of building, it's an honor. I really appreciate this opportunity to be a part of this world-renowned cancer center," Kaneko said.

White and black bands of the "Search" Tower represent the patterns of human chromosomes, which comprise DNA and proteins, carrying fundamental instructions for cells in the form of genes. Mutations of normal chromosomes can cause cancer.

UNMC and Nebraska Medicine are thrilled to have Kaneko's "Search" Tower, said UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D.

"We are really fortunate to have an iconic representative of the Omaha community doing a major art feature for the medical center," said Dr. Gold, who also chairs the Nebraska Medicine board of directors. "The glass tower will be widely appreciated by our students, faculty and staff as well as the whole community. It will be a beacon of light that will spread far and wide from our campus."

Daniel DeBehnke, M.D., M.B.A., CEO of Nebraska Medicine, said the tower will provide a spectacular doorstep to the medical center.

"As Nebraska Medicine works to provide the most extraordinary care for our patients, there could be no finer art piece than the 'Search' Tower to welcome patients to the newest and finest cancer center in the country," Dr. DeBehnke said. "This is truly a remarkable cornerstone of our Healing Arts Program."

Art and science come together

When Jun Kaneko began designing "Search," he incorporated pattern, light and color in a design that rang true to his instincts as an artist.

What the cancer center doctors saw was science. They recognized the patterns in the work as human chromosomes, which comprise DNA and proteins, carrying fundamental instructions for cells in the form of genes. Mutations of normal chromosomes can cause cancer.

Both artist and scientists were surprised and amazed that Kaneko's patterns were 75 to 80 percent accurate representations of DNA. He felt that adjusting the patterns to be 100 percent accurate would not compromise the design and would make the work even more meaningful to its purpose as a beacon guiding patients to the cancer center.

The Science of DNA within 'Search'
"The seeming random alternating light and dark bands in 'Search' inspired the design to illustrate a laboratory staining technique used to identify individual chromosomes. Humans have 46 chromosomes, (twenty-two pairs numbered 1-22 and either XX or XY). Each chromosome has a unique and consistent 'striping' (band) pattern that identifies the chromosome as normal, or mutated. Chromosomes are made up of DNA and protein and carry fundamental instructions for cells of the body in the form of genes. Mutations of chromosomes change the DNA structure or sequence, and alter cell growth. The band-pattern of normal chromosomes are in the lower half of 'Search.'

To see a breakdown of the gene pattern used in the "Search" Tower, click here.

"The upper part of the tower illustrates mutations seen in cancers of the breast, lung, colon, brain, bladder and kidney, as well as lymphomas, leukemia, sarcomas and others. Some cancers have mutations where a portion of one chromosome is joined to another, creating a gene that drives uncontrolled cell growth. This is illustrated on the tower by tiers 9J and 22U, a mutation seen in leukemia. Other mutations increase the risk of cancer, such as mutations involving the BRCA1 gene in breast cancer, shown as 17S. Some cancers have multiple mutations on many different chromosomes and other cancers feature only one to a small number of mutations that may be specific for a single type of cancer such as depicted in 2B and 8G for this predominantly pediatric cancer.

"'Search' is a creative fusion of art and science. Inspiration like this drives our research to understand genetic abnormalities for optimal diagnosis and treatment of cancer."
-James Linder, M.D., chief strategist, University of Nebraska Office of the President, and Julia Bridge, M.D., professor, UNMC Department of Pathology and Microbiology (Note: Both physicians provided their gene expertise to Kaneko as he designed the tower.)

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