Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Community
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Cancer-Killing Cells are Caught on Film in More 3D Detail Than Ever Before

Published: Friday, September 16, 2011
Last Updated: Friday, September 16, 2011
Bookmark and Share
Scientists reveal in more detail than ever before how white blood cells kill diseased tissue using deadly granules, in research published in PLoS Biology.

The researchers, from Imperial College London and the University of Oxford, used 'optical' laser tweezers and a super-resolution microscope to see the inner workings of white blood cells at the highest resolution ever. The researchers describe how a white blood cell rearranges its scaffolding of actin proteins on the inside of its membrane, to create a hole through which it delivers deadly enzyme-filled granules to kill diseased tissue.

The study looked at a type of white blood cell called a Natural Killer (NK) cell that protects the body by identifying and killing diseased tissue.

"NK cells are important in our immune response to viruses and rogue tissues like tumours. They may also play a role in the outcome of bone marrow transplants by determining whether a recipient's body rejects or accepts the donated tissue," said Professor Daniel Davis, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, who led the research.

The scientists hope that learning more about how NK cells identify which tissues to kill and initiate the killing process could lead to better healthcare for some patients. Professor Davis said: "In the future, drugs that influence where and when NK cells kill could be included in medical treatments, such as the targeted killing of tumours. They may also prove useful in preventing the unwanted destruction by NK cells that may occur in transplant rejection or some auto-immune diseases."

The new visual resolution of NK cell action is a result of a novel imaging technique developed in collaboration with physicists at Imperial, and the use of a super high-resolution microscope at the University of Oxford. The researchers immobilised an NK cell and its target using a pair of 'optical' laser tweezers so that the microscope could capture all the action at the interface between the cells. They then watched inside the NK cell as the actin filaments parted to create a tiny portal and the enzyme-filled granules moved to the portal, ready to pass out of the NK cell and onto the target to kill it.

Dr Alice Brown, also from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, and one of the researchers who carried out many of the experiments, said: "These previously undetectable events inside cells have never been seen in such high resolution. It is truly exciting to observe what happens when an NK cell springs into action."

The contact between an NK cell and its target is only about a hundredth of a millimetre across and the miniscule actin proteins and granules change position continuously over the few minutes from initial contact until the target is killed. The microscope has to be able to capture images quickly enough and in high enough visual detail in order to reveal their activity.

Most microscopes view images in the horizontal plane, so to view an interface between two cells at any other orientation would require 'stacks' of multiple horizontal images combined to make a 3D image. This significantly limits the speed at which cell dynamics can be viewed and reduces image quality.

Professor Paul French from the Department of Physics at Imperial College London, who helped develop the microscopy with colleagues in the Photonics Group, said: "Using laser tweezers to manipulate the interface between live cells into a horizontal orientation means our microscope can take many images of the cell contact interface in rapid succession. This has provided an unprecedented means to directly see dynamic molecular processes that go on between live cells."

Professor Ilan Davis, a Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow at the University of Oxford, whose group applies super resolution technique to basic cell biology research said: "Our microscope has given us unprecedented views inside living NK cells capturing a super-resolution 3D image of the cell structures at twice the normal resolution of conventional light microscope. This method, developed at University of California San Francisco by Professor John Sedat, maximizes the amount of light captured from the specimen while minimizing the amount of stray light inside the instrument."

This study was funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship. It also benefited from a £150,000 award from the Rector's Research Excellence Prize to Imperial's Chemical Biology Centre to reward high academic achievement in blue skies research with significant potential. Daniel Davis and Paul French hold Wolfson Royal Society Research Merit Awards.

The full article can be accessed online using the link below.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,800+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 4,000+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

New Technique Negotiates Neuron Jungle To Target Source Of Parkinson’s Disease
Researchers from Imperial College London and Newcastle University believe they have found a potential new way to target cells of the brain affected by Parkinson’s disease.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Designer Molecule Shines a Spotlight on Mysterious Four-Stranded DNA
A small fluorescent molecule has shed new light on knots of DNA thought to play a role in regulating how genes are switched on and off.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
New Drug Target Identified for Serious Heart and Lung Condition
A gene has been identified that sheds new light on a potentially fatal heart and lung condition and could lead to a new treatment.
Friday, August 14, 2015
Scientists Find New Variant of Streptococcal Bacteria Causing Severe Infections
Researchers noticed a sharp rise in infections caused by emm89.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Gene Therapy for Cystic Fibrosis Shows Encouraging Trial Results
A therapy that replaces the faulty gene responsible for cystic fibrosis in patients' lungs has produced encouraging results in a major UK trial.
Friday, July 03, 2015
New Genetic Form of Obesity and Diabetes Discovered
Scientists have discovered a new inherited form of obesity and type 2 diabetes in humans.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
New Genetic Form of Obesity and Diabetes Discovered
Scientists have discovered a new inherited form of obesity and type 2 diabetes in humans.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Researchers Develop New Breath Test to Diagnose Oesophageal and Gastric Cancer
Test will now be tested in a larger trial involving three hospitals in London.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Imperial Researchers Win Health Foundation Grant for Cancer Innovation Study
Each project will receive over £450,000 of funding to support the research.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Diet Swap has Dramatic Effects on Colon Cancer Risk for Americans and Africans
New study confirms that a high fibre diet can substantially reduce risk.
Saturday, May 02, 2015
Protein That Boosts Immunity to Viruses and Cancer Discovered
Researchers now developing a gene therapy designed to boost the infection-fighting cells.
Saturday, April 18, 2015
Epigenetic Study Highlights Drug Targets for Allergies and Asthma
Scientists have discovered over 30 new genes that predispose people to allergies and asthma, some of which could be targets for new drugs.
Saturday, February 21, 2015
New 'Systems Genetics' Study Identifies Possible Target For Epilepsy Treatment
A single gene that coordinates a network of about 400 genes involved in epilepsy could be a target for new treatments, according to research.
Friday, January 23, 2015
Titin' Gene Mutations Will Help Identify Patients At Risk Of Heart Failure
A new study has identified genetic mutations that cause the heart condition dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), paving the way for more accurate diagnosis.
Friday, January 16, 2015
New Test can Help Doctors Choose Best Treatment for Ovarian Cancer
ADNEX discriminate between benign and malignant tumours with a high level of accuracy.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Scientific News
New Tech Vastly Improves CRISPR/Cas9 Accuracy
A new CRISPR/Cas9 technology developed by scientists at UMass Medical School is precise enough to surgically edit DNA at nearly any genomic location, while avoiding potentially harmful off-target changes typically seen in standard CRISPR gene editing techniques.
New Class of RNA Tumor Suppressors Identified
Two short, “housekeeping” RNA molecules block cancer growth by binding to an important cancer-associated protein called KRAS. More than a quarter of all human cancers are missing these RNAs.
Biologists Induce Flatworms to Grow Heads and Brains of Other Species
Findings shed light on role of a new kind of epigenetic signaling in evolution, could yield clues for understanding birth defects and regeneration.
Turning up the Tap on Microbes Leads to Better Protein Patenting
Mining millions of proteins could become faster and easier with a new technique that may also transform the enzyme-catalyst industry, according to University of California, Davis, researchers.
Mathematical Model Forecasts the Path of Breast Cancer
Chances of survival depend on which organs breast cancer tumors colonize first.
Exploring the Causes of Cancer
Queen's research to understand the regulation of a cell surface protein involved in cancer.
Ancient Viral Molecules Essential for Human Development
Genetic material from ancient viral infections is critical to human development, according to researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Tardigrade's Are DNA Master Thieves
Tardigrades, nearly microscopic animals that can survive the harshest of environments, including outer space, hold the record for the animal that has the most foreign DNA.
The Secret Behind the Power of Bacterial Sex
Migration between different communities of bacteria is the key to the type of gene transfer that can lead to the spread of traits such as antibiotic resistance, according to researchers at Oxford University.
Farming’s in Their DNA
Ancient genomes reveal natural selection in action.
Skyscraper Banner

SELECTBIO Market Reports
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,800+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,000+ scientific videos