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New technique to spy on cell eating habits could aid cancer diagnosis

Scientists have developed new imaging technology to track what lab-grown human cells eat.

Edinburgh University lecturer Marc Vendrell helped develop the new imaging technique (Edinburgh University/PA)
Edinburgh University lecturer Marc Vendrell helped develop the new imaging technique (Edinburgh University/PA)

Scientists have created new imaging technology to visualise what cells eat, which could aid the diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer.

Edinburgh University researchers developed chemical probes which light up when they attach to specific molecules cells eat, such as glucose.

The team then set up an experiment using transparent fish embryos which enabled them to observe cell eating habits.

They used microscopes to watch cells consuming glucose inside see-through live zebrafish embryos.

Researchers then found the technique also worked with human cells growing in the lab.

The team believe the new technology could help detect tiny changes in cells’ eating habits inside the body, enabling diseases to be spotted sooner.

This is a very important advance to understand the metabolism of diseased cells and we hope it will help develop better therapies. Marc Vendrell, Edinburgh University

All cells rely on glucose and other molecules for their survival and a change in a cell’s eating habits can be a warning sign of disease.

The scientists think their new imaging method could be adapted to look for other molecules important for health and disease.

Doctors could also use the technology to monitor how patients are responding to treatment, by tracking the molecules that are eaten by healthy and diseased cells.

Marc Vendrell, senior lecturer in biomedical imaging at Edinburgh University, said: “We have very few methods to measure what cells eat to produce energy, which is what we know as cell metabolism.

“Our technology allows us to detect multiple metabolites simultaneously and in live cells, by simply using microscopes.

“This is a very important advance to understand the metabolism of diseased cells and we hope it will help develop better therapies.”

The study was published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

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