Cancer cells become dangerous when they go on the move. Most deaths from the disease are caused by cells spreading from an initial tumour to other places in the body – a process called metastasis – making it much more difficult to treat. Researchers are trying to understand how sticky molecules around cancer cells – known as the extracellular matrix – help them to get moving, and how they could be stopped in their tracks. To find out which molecules are important, the scientists grow lung cancer cells from mice on glass slides speckled with 4000 tiny spots containing mixtures of 38 different extracellular matrix proteins. Before embarking on experiments they make sure that these proteins are all present and correct using fluorescent markers to highlight the various proteins in different colours (pictured). The result is more like a modern artwork than a vital tool to shed light on how cancer spreads.
Written by Kat Arney
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