Jellyfish help researchers study cancer

One of the most important regulators of our bodies’ health is a molecule called guanosine triphosphate or GTP.  It's the master regulator of cell processes, including transforming normal cells into cancer. Because GTP is everywhere in our bodies, binding proteins to this molecule using phosphorescent light from a jellyfish helps researchers better see and predict cancer recurrence, and to test out new drugs.

Rui Sousa, PhD, Biochemistry, UT Health San Antonio said, “Well, we can use it to screen for new cancer drugs that operate through this mechanism.”

He's referring to GTP, which regulates cell movement in our bodies, including growth of cancer cells. Researchers are searching for compounds that reduce GTP levels in target cells. It could be a new way to treat disease.

“GTP is a very, very important molecule for a cell to grow in a cancerous manner,” Matthew Hart, PhD, Biochemistry, UT Health San Antonio explained.

How do they see this cell transformation?  Researchers built a sensor to put inside cells that bind with the GTP. It emits light because it includes a protein from glowing jellyfish. Because GTP molecules are invisible, this added light gives scientists visibility when drug compounds are added to cell solutions.

“The light that this sensor emits changes, depending on what the concentration of GTP is in its environment. So, connecting these two is a way of making the binding of GTP become visible as light signals,” Sousa explained.

When cells turn cancerous, they increase the levels of their GTP enzymes. So, treating these cells with certain drugs might mean they will stop moving and reproducing. The hope is to eventually use this in cancer patients to destroy cancer cell membranes.

It’s still in the research phase. Next up, animal testing and human clinical trials. But researchers say this is an important breakthrough in monitoring the GTP molecule that plays such a huge role in our overall health.



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