Existing techniques for labelling cells are either too slow or too toxic to perform on live cells. Now, a study reviewed by Philip Dawson, a member of Faculty of 1000 Biology and leading authority in chemistry and cell biology, describes a novel labelling technique that uses a chemical reaction to make live cancer cells light up quickly and safely.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital developed a two-step process to specifically tag cancer cells. First, chemically modified antibodies home in on cancer cells. Then a chemical reaction called cycloaddition transfers a dye onto the antibody making the cancer cells glow when viewed through a microscope.
The novel cycloaddition reaction is fast, very specific, and requires minimal manipulation of the cells. Dawson comments that, in combining antibody binding with the cycloaddition, "low signal-to-noise ratios are achieved". This new labelling 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.