Experts from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) are using the natural process of light emission from fireflies to identify the effectiveness of some cancer drugs.
To shine, fireflies produce luciferin, a substrate that, upon contact with an oxidative enzyme called luciferase, emits light. This is called bioluminescence, explained the expert from the Institute of Biotechnology (IBt) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Luis Covarrubias, with whom Celina García and Verónica Rojo are collaborating.
The academic uses the facilities of the National Laboratory of Advanced Microscopy (LNMA) of IBt where they have the special equipment to detect bioluminescence, acquired through donations from the National Council of Science and Technology and UNAM’s Coordination of Scientific Research.
Covarrubias explained that in his research the first possibility is to introduce luciferase into tumor cells that will then be implemented in mice, in order to allow them to grow. The next step is to apply luciferin, “in order to see the growth of the tumor, because as it enlarges the luminescence becomes greater. And then, by administering an effective anticancer, the light will shrink. ”
The strategy of the research team is to create cells with tumorigenic potential containing firefly genes, in this way the cancer cells will shine as they grow.
“We use cell lines derived from human tumors and we introduce the gene that codes for luciferase. This allows to test drugs against cancer directly in human cells, which grow inside an immunodeficient animal”, the academic said.
The second possibility is to use transgenic mice, which have been modified so that their organism distributes luciferase activity when an intracellular signaling pathway associated with cervical cancer is switched on.
To achieve this, the researcher acquired transgenic mice in which the production of luciferase is linked to this pathway. These animals were genetically combined with other transgenic rodents, produced some years ago in their laboratory by microinjection of papillomavirus oncogenes.
In these double-transgenic mice it can be observed that, either by the presence of the oncogenes of the papillomavirus, by the hormone estradiol or by both, the area of the cervix begins to shine. In this genetic and hormonal combination the tissues bioluminate and this is how the LNMA teams detect the start of the tumor.
TYT Newsroom with information from http://www.gaceta.unam.mx/