New Microscope Allows Researchers to Watch Cancer Cells ‘Explode in Real Time’

Researchers at Mayo Clinic and the University of North Florida are getting a never-before-seen look at the behaviors of cancer cells thanks to new technology that one researcher says is a "game changer."

While terms like "fight" and "war" come up often in discussions about defeating cancer, we tend to feature the softer side of the struggle. The human side. The everything-we-can-do-for-the-patient side. So when we heard about a new weapon researchers at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus were given in their ongoing fight against cancer, we enjoyed the apparent hyperbole. But then we learned about researchers watching cancer cells "explode in real time" and stood at attention.

As the Florida Times-Union and Action News Jax report, a new Q-Phase holographic microscope made by Czech Republic company TESCAN is giving researchers at the University of North Florida and Mayo Clinic a never-before-seen look at the behaviors and migratory patterns of cancer cells, thanks to its ability to image living cells for up to five days. Mayo Clinic postdoctoral research fellow Maarten Rotman, Ph.D., tells us that's been a "game changer," especially as it pertains to his research into treating glioblastoma, one of the most dangerous forms of brain cancer.

"They're super aggressive," Dr. Rotman, a researcher in the lab of Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, M.D., says of glioblastoma tumors. "Despite treatment, patients will almost uniformly have a 100 percent recurrence. The most logical explanation for that is that there are single cells within these tumors that are highly evasive and highly migratory. So our job here in the research lab is to find and kill those cells."

That mission, Dr. Rotman tells us, has been made much easier thanks the University of North Florida's willingness to let researchers at Mayo Clinic use the new microscope. "It's insanely good at being able to detect the smallest mass changes in these living cancer cells, and because of that, we're able to visualize things that would otherwise be impossible for us to see," he says. "In the long run, this is going to make a positive impact on patient care."

That's because, as Dr. Rotman tells Action News Jax, he and his research colleagues at Mayo Clinic are able to see exactly how glioblastoma cells respond to — or don't respond to — various treatments. When treatments do work, they can then basically sit back and watch each cancer cell "explode in real time."

Fellow Mayo Clinic cancer researcher Anna Carrano, Ph.D., tells us it's both satisfying and encouraging. "Cancer cells move in a very particular way in the body, and we're finding out a lot more about their individual movements, hiding places and patterns thanks to our use of the Q-phase microscope," she says. "We're able to follow and track cell behaviors over time and actually make short little 'movies' of that movement, which helps us better understand them … and better kill them."

Laura Lewis-Tuffin, Ph.D., cellular imaging and flow cytometry specialist for Mayo's departments of Cancer Biology and Neuroscience, says that's why she was quick to accept the university's invitation to allow researchers at Mayo Clinic to jointly use the microscope throughout its initial 90-day loan period from TESCAN. "If I was still in the lab myself, I'd be very interested in using this microscope," she tells us. "Both Maarten and Anna have been able to get some really valuable research data that we wouldn't have otherwise been able to get, and we're very thankful for that."

You can read more about how the Q-phase microscope is helping to advance patient care at Mayo Clinic here. Then advance yourself on over to leave a comment below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.

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