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UNC researchers use luminescent mice to track cancer and aging in real-time
Date:1/17/2013

Chapel Hill, NC In a study published in the January 18 issue of Cell, researchers from the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center have developed a new method to visualize aging and tumor growth in mice using a gene closely linked to these processes.

Researchers have long known that the gene, p16INK4a (p16), plays a role in aging and cancer suppression by activating an important tumor defense mechanism called 'cellular senescence'. The UNC team led by Norman Sharpless, MD, Wellcome Distinguished Professor of Cancer Research and Deputy Cancer Center Director, has developed a strain of mice that turns on a gene from fireflies when the normal p16 gene is activated. In cells undergoing senescence, the p16 gene is switched on, activating the firefly gene and causing the affected tissue to glow.

Throughout the entire lifespan of these mice, the researchers followed p16 activation by simply tracking the brightness of each animal. They found that old mice are brighter than young mice, and that sites of cancer formation become extremely bright, allowing for the early identification of developing cancers.

"With these mice, we can visualize in real-time the activation of cellular senescence, which prevents cancer but causes aging. We can literally see the earliest molecular stages of cancer and aging in living mice." said Sharpless.

The researchers envision immediate practical uses for these mice. By providing a visual indication of the activation cellular senescence, the mice will allow researchers to test substances and exposures that promote cellular aging ("gerontogen testing") in the same way that other mouse models currently allow toxicologists to identify cancer-causing substances ("carcinogen testing"). Moreover, these mice are already being used by scientists at UNC and other institutions to identify early cancer development and the response of tumors to anti-cancer treatments.

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Contact: William Davis
william_davis@med.unc.edu
919-966-5906
University of North Carolina Health Care
Source:Eurekalert  

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