The viscosity, or 'gloopiness', of different parts of cancer cells increases dramatically when they are blasted with light-activated cancer drugs, according to new images that provide fundamental insights into how cancer cells die, published in Nature Chemistry today (15 March).
The images reveal the physical changes that occur inside cancer cells whilst they are dying as a result of Photodynamic Therapy (PDT). This cancer treatment uses light to activate a drug that creates a short-lived toxic type of oxygen, called singlet oxygen, which kills cancerous cells.
The research team behind the study says that revealing what happens to viscosity within a dying cancer cell is important because it helps give a better understanding of how cells function and which factors are important for controlling reactions inside cells. Ultimately this could help scientists design more efficient drugs for Photodynamic Therapy and other treatments.
The research is also of wider significance because these are the first ever real-time maps showing viscosity changing over a period of time inside a cell during a biologically important process like cell death.
Previous studies have shown that the viscosity of human cells and organs also changes in patients with diseases including diabetes and atherosclerosis, says lead author Dr Marina Kuimova from Imperial College London's Department of Chemistry.
She explains: "We're still not quite sure exactly what the relationship is between increased stickiness inside cells and disease, but we expect that the two are related."
"Knowing more about these changes, and being able to map them when they occur in all kinds of different scenarios, from dying cancer cells, to diseased blood cells, could help us to better understand how some diseases and their treatments affect cell and organ function."
Dr Kuimova and her colleagues were able to track viscosity as it changed inside live
|Contact: Danielle Reeves|
Imperial College London