Healthy living

Jellyfish help diagnose cancer

Jellyfish help diagnose cancer Fluorescent proteins light up cancer cells

UK scientists in have developed a technique that uses the luminous cells from jellyfish to diagnose cancers deep within the human body.

Professor Norman Maitland at the University of York says the technique could revolutionise the way some cancers are diagnosed.

"Cancers deep within the body are difficult to spot at an early stage, and early diagnosis is critical for the successful treatment of any form of cancer," he said.

"What we have developed is a technique which involves inserting proteins derived from luminous jellyfish cells into human cancer cells.

Then, when we illuminate the tissue, a special camera detects these proteins as they light up, indicating where the tumours are."

The team of scientists used an altered form of the green fluorescent protein (GFP) which allows jellyfish to glow in the dark. The altered protein shows up as red or blue, rather than the original green colour.

Viruses containing the proteins are used to home in on tiny bundles of cancer cells scattered throughout the body which are too small to be seen by conventional scanning techniques.

As the viruses start to multiply, more and more of the red fluorescent protein is made.

"When a specially developed camera is switched on, the proteins just flare up and you can see where the cancer cells are." said Prof Maitland. "We call the process 'Virimaging'. "

If the research continues to go according to plan, the technique is expected to be ready for clinical trials within five years.

However, a major hurdle which needs to be overcome is a shortage of specialised cameras.

Only one company in the United States has so far designed and built a camera system which allows the jellyfish proteins to be seen with the desired resolution deep in the body.

The camera costs around half a million pounds and Prof Maitland is currently raising the funds to buy one.

This article was published on Tue 2 November 2010

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