This attains significance because scientists generally label cells with colored or glowing chemicals to observe how basic cellular activities differ between healthy and cancerous cells, but existing techniques are either too slow or too toxic to perform on live cells.
Under the novel process, chemically modified antibodies first home in on cancer cells, and then a chemical reaction called cycloaddition transfers a dye onto the antibody making the cancer cells glow when viewed through a microscope.
Philip Dawson, a member of Faculty of 1000 Biology and leading authority in chemistry and cell biology, reviewed a study and observed that the novel cycloaddition reaction is fast, very specific, and requires minimal manipulation of the cells.
He comments that, in combining antibody binding with the cycloaddition, "low signal-to-noise ratios are achieved".
He points out that the new labeling technique could be used to track the location and activity of anti-cancer drugs, the location of cancer-specific proteins within the cell, or to visualize cancer cells inside a living organism.
Dawson concludes that cycloaddition will allow scientists to observe live cancer cells in the body, leading to a better understanding of cancer's basic processes.