Jellyfish Help Screen for Cancer: Medicine’s Next Big Thing?


SAN ANTONIO, Texas. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Guanosine triphosphate or GTP is 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 told Ivanhoe, “Well, we can use it to screen for new cancer drugs that operate through this mechanism.” (Read Full Interview)

Rui Sousa is 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.

Contributors to this news report include: Donna Parker, Field Producer; Bruce Maniscalco, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Gabriella Battistiol, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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BACKGROUND: Cancer cells differ from normal cells in ways that allow them to become invasive and grow out of control. One important difference is that cancer cells are less specialized than the normal cells. Normal cells mature into very distinct cell types and serve specific function while cancer cells do not. This is one reason why unlike normal cells, cancerous ones will continue to divide and fail to stop. The cancer cells are able to actually ignore signals that tell them to stop dividing, or begin a process known as programmed cell death, which the body uses to get rid of unnecessary cells. Cancer cells may influence the normal cells, blood vessels, and molecules that surround and feed a tumor; for example they can induce nearby normal cells to form blood vessels that supply the tumors with oxygen and nutrients, which they need to grow. These blood vessels also serve to remove waste products from tumors. Some cancer cells are able to “hide” from the immune system, and evade the body’s attempted protection from infections and other conditions.


JELLYFISH GLOWING PROTEINS: Green fluorescent protein or GFP was first observed in 1962 in bioluminescent jellyfish. The protein was isolated and researchers demonstrated its ability to light up green under beams of specific color of lights. Since then GFP has revolutionized molecular biology research. It can be manipulated through the use of DNA modification technologies, to fuse to genes of other proteins, allowing them to produce the florescent light. This is called “tagging” the protein with GFP.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Guanosine Triphosphate or GTP is the master regulator of cell processes, including transformation of normal cells into cancer cells. Binding proteins to this molecule using phosphorescent light from a jellyfish is helping researchers’ better see and predict cancer recurrence, and test out new drugs. They can use these sensors in a process called high-throughput screening to find compounds that reduce GTP levels in target cells, which hypothetically could be a way to treat disease. UT Health San Antonio conducts these screenings in the Center for Innovative Drug Discovery operated jointly by UT Health and The University of Texas at San Antonio.



Will Sansom

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