Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Fireflies Help Fight Cancer

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Fireflies Help Fight Cancer

Article excerpt

Researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) have figured out a way to use a firefly gene to see just how effective a new drug combination actually is against some forms of cancer.

The new study looked at adult T-cell lymphoma and leukemia (ATLL), a form of cancer in which progress is particularly hard to gauge and patients' prognosis is generally poor. There is now no widely effective therapy available to treat this disease successfully.

In doing so, the researchers developed what they hope will be the first animal model for the disease that includes a severe bone depletion called humoral hypercalcemia of malignancy (HHM), a condition that can affect four out of every five ATLL patients and shorten their lives. Earlier tissue culture studies on a new anticancer drug, PS-341, showed promise in attacking the cancer cells, but before now, an effective animal model was not available for researchers to use that also addressed HHM's calcium buildup.

Thomas Rosol, professor of veterinary biosciences and dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at OSU, and his team tested PS-341 and zoledronic acid, separately and combined, in a group of specialized mice that had been injected with ATLL tumor cells. "We can inject these tumor cells into the abdomen of the mice, and they will grow in the animals' lymph nodes," explains Rosol, "but normally, you cannot detect the extent of the animal's disease until the cancer is in its later stages."

To solve this problem, Rosol's team took a gene responsible for a firefly's glow and genetically inserted it into these tumor cells. That gene produces the enzyme luciferase in the insects which, when combined with the compound luciferin, causes the firefly's distinctive glow.

The mice then received these genetically-modified tumor cells and were injected with luciferin. Cancer cells containing the luciferase combined with the luciferin and glowed in the dark, giving the team a clear picture of the extent of disease inside the animal. "We put these mice inside a blackened chamber with a digital camera and then took their pictures," Rosol says. "The only light present would be the light emitted by the cancer cells. …

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