Glowing Cancer

Most of us have spent the summer nights as children chasing and catching fireflies. Now, scientists are using the chemicals that make fireflies glow in high-tech cancer research.

The chemicals that cause fireflies to light up have inspired everything from new flashlight technology to new flares.

Dr. Tom Rosol of Ohio State's comprehensive cancer center says these chemicals when injected into mice in the lab, cause cancer cells to glow.

By using sensitive cameras, the cancer cells light up almost immediately.

Dr. Rosol says they use the gene cell called Luciferase. They're using this gene the light emitted in an animal's body through cancer cells as they metatasized or traveled through the body.

More and more cancer research is being taken outside the lab. Bioluminesence occurs in strange places in nature like fireflies, fungi and some bacteria but at the Columbus Zoo they also learn that it occurs in the sea in some deep sea fish and some jelly fish.

Dr. Rosol and his team are tracking the cancer cells to try and understand why some cancers spread.

In breast and prostate cancers, specifically, tumor cells can spread to the bones with devastating consequences.

Their long-term goal is to inhibit bone metastasis and even potentially treat it.

Researchers are also using the same chemicals found in fireflies to study diseases like multiple sclerosis and heart disease.

The imaging system is useful for cancer studies in animals but may have only limited application in humans. Often tumors are buried too deeply in the body for the camera to detect light that may be emitted from them.

Just the same, Rosol and his colleagues are optimistic about what this technology may offer. They believe bioluminescent imaging can speed the discovery of new cancer drugs and improve scientists' ability to study how cancer grows and spreads in live animals and offers a new way for scientists to see biology in action.

The research appears in a supplement to the February 1 issue of the journal cancer. Some of Rosol's research is supported by the United States public health service and the national institutes of health.