Just as cats use their whiskers to sense changes in the world around them, your cells have tiny ‘hairs’ called cilia that sense chemical signals in the environment. Curiously, cancer cells – like this one from a highly aggressive rare childhood kidney tumour – appear to have more cilia than normal, and the hairs are unusually long (highlighted with a green fluorescent dye) if the cell has become resistant to the effects of chemotherapy drugs. Scientists have discovered that treating these resistant cells with drugs that destroy their cilia makes them sensitive to the same chemotherapy again, probably by interfering with important signalling molecules inside the delicate hairs. In contrast, using methods that encourage the growth of cilia makes the cells resistant to the drugs. This effect is seen in several tumour types, suggesting that targeting cilia could be a new way to treat cancers that no longer respond to chemotherapy.
Written by Kat Arney
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.