Let there be light — in the battle against cancer cells.
The stunning images above, captured using high-speed laser microscopy, shows a cancer cell isolated on a coverslip, trapped within “walls” of blue light.
Scientists created this cage by inserting a light-sensitive protein from plants into the cell, so that any contact with the light caused the protein to come apart, and the cell’s structural “scaffolding” (the white lines within the cell) to collapse.
This makes it impossible for the cell to continue moving in the same direction. In response, the cell turns and tries a different route, with the same result. Thus, the cell is stopped dead in its tracks. The process of manipulating cells with light is called optogenetics.
“Photo-inactivation lets us turn proteins off and back on in living cells in real time, and do so with much more spatial accuracy than has been possible before,” said Torsten Wittmann, a UCSF professor who led the study on the technique.
While the technique is not going to be used in people any time soon, disrupting this isolated cell’s ability to migrate is teaching researchers about new ways they might prevent metastatic cancer from spreading in patients. The same process can also be used to study a host of functions in other types of cells, as well.