Killing cancer cells but minimising side effects is a difficult balancing act for any cancer treatment. Take microtubule inhibitors for example. These commonly used anticancer drugs are excellent at preventing cancer cells from multiplying – they destroy structural proteins (microtubules) required for cell division – but they also block division in healthy cells and cause tissue damage. Targeting these drugs to work only where desired would protect healthy tissues. And now scientists have a possible strategy: microtubule inhibitors that operate only when exposed to blue light. The cancer cells pictured were all treated with one of the new drugs but only the illuminated cells (bottom right panel) had their microtubules (green) destroyed. It might be a while before such light-operated drugs are used in patients – for one thing, an illumination system to target tumours must be established – but in the meantime, the drugs will serve as valuable and highly controllable research tools.
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.