Molecular probe illuminates elusive cancer stem cells in live mice

Source: Xinhua| 2018-08-13 00:00:02|Editor: mmm
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CHICAGO, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) -- Researchers at the University of Illinois (UI) have developed a new probe named AlDeSense where a small molecule can bind to an enzyme related to the property of stemness in cancer cells. When the molecule reacts with the target enzyme which cancer stem cells produce in high concentrations, the probe becomes activated, emitting a fluorescent signal only.

The study has been published in the journal ACS Central Science. The study has been published in the journal ACS Central Science.

In a series of experiments, UI researchers found that the enzyme seems to be a marker of stemness across many types of cancer, indicating that AlDeSense may be broadly applicable for clinical imaging.

The researchers first demonstrated that AlDeSense is compatible with two major cellular techniques: flow cytometry and confocal imaging. They then found and tracked cancer stem cells in tissue removed from mice for biopsy and in live mice with metastatic tumors.

The ability to find and track cancer stem cells in the body, as well as their state of stemness - the signal decreases as the cells differentiate - allowed the researchers to follow cells from injection to tumor as they spread through the bodies of the mice, answering some fundamental questions of how cancer stem cells behave.

"It's really the first time to be able to look at cancer stem cells in the complicated environment where they live, not only in cell cultures or artificial tumor environments," said UI chemistry professor Jefferson Chan, who led the study.

"Through this study, we can see that the stemness properties are maintained in the population, even after they metastasize. There's something about the environment in the body that supports stem cell characteristics. With AlDeSense, now we can profile that environment."

In the next step, the researchers will evaluate whether using AlDeSense to track cancer stem cell populations in tumors can predict prognosis in dogs with lymphoma. They are also working to enable the probe with other functions, such as the capability to selectively kill cancer stem cells.

"Another thing we're pursuing is screening for inhibitors or drugs that can kill cancer stem cells by targeting this enzyme," Chan said. "Since we know that our probe only interacts with that one target, we can use the probe to look for a drug that can inhibit this enzyme and verify it in cells and in live animals."