Single cell imaging reveals novel insight into cancer growth

A new imaging collaboration between researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s Center for Dynamic Imaging in Australia has revealed cancer cell findings that may help predict how cells respond to chemotherapy and our overall understanding of the disease, according to a release from the Institute.

"This study demonstrates the power of imaging to directly reveal cellular behaviors, and in some cases challenge assumptions that were made before it was possible to obtain such clear evidence," researcher Lachlan Whitehead, MD, said in the release.

In the study, published in Cell Cycle, the team tagged cancer cells with a fluorescent sensor that changes color during the cells' progression through the cell cycle. Then, researchers used single cell imaging to track each phase of the cycle, according to the study.

Cancer cells, the researchers found, in comparison to healthy cells, undergo a dramatic shortening during the first phase of the cell cycle allowing them to speed through that step at a “risky pace,” said researcher Kim Pham, MD, in the release.

The finding points to a vulnerability in the first phase that could potentially be targeted by cancer treatments, the authors noted.

"Cancers have often lost the safety checks that prevent replication in the presence of errors such as DNA damage. Our work suggests the lack of these safety checks leads to the first phase of the cell cycle becoming much shorter in cancer cells,” said fellow researcher Phil Hodgkin. “Drugs that help restore these safety checks could be beneficial for treating multiple cancers.”