1,000 new cancer cell models within 3 years!

The drive to find new and better treatments for cancer continues to gain momentum. We had President Obama pledge $1 billion for cancer research earlier in the year and this week sees the launch of the Human Cancer Models Initiative. The initiative which is a global collaboration of research centres including the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland; Cancer Research UK in London; the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK; and Hubrecht Organoid Technology of Utrecht in the Netherlands, aims to develop a cache of  cell lines for use in research in to cancer causes and treatments. The initial goal is 1,000 cell lines each with matched clinical data relating to the patient the line was derived from, the genetic subtype and how that patient responded to treatment. Rather than just isolating and storing the cells for distribution on request, the members of the initiative also plan to use new culture techniques such as 3D organoids and to create immortalised lines. It is thought that the initial 1,000 lines, which the members hope to finalise within 3 years, will roughly double the lines available currently. However Louis Staudt, head of the NCI’s Center for Cancer Genomics estimates that researchers need about 10,000 models to fully capture the diversity of relatively common genetic subtypes of cancer.


If a Neutrino oscillates and no-one is there to measure it, does it oscillate at all?

Neutrinos, the lightest known subatomic particle with mass, shown to exist in 3 different states by 2015 Nobel prize winning researchers is a fundamental building block of the universe and the second most abundant particle. However, Joseph Formaggio, a neutrino physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and colleagues have published data from the Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search (MINOS) experiment indicating “the neutrino has no flavor until it’s actually measured”.

The Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search (MINOS) experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, fires neutrinos at near-light-speed 735 kilometers to a 5.4-kiloton detector in the Soudan Mine in Minnesota.The neutrinos start as muon neutrinos and “oscillate” mainly to electron neutrinos. MINOS experimenters didn’t repeatedly measure individual neutrinos, as detecting a neutrino destroys it. So in order to determine the evolution of the neutrinos they used time since leaving Fermilab to measure oscillations, as all of the neutrinos began in the same muon state. Hence measuring many neutrinos was equivalent to measuring the same one repeatedly. The rate at which neutrinos oscillate varies with their energy, with the clock ticking faster for more energetic neutrinos. So instead of looking for correlations between neutrinos measured at different times, Formaggio and colleagues looked for equivalent correlations in the number of muon neutrinos arriving in Minnesota with different energies.

“As we expected, it’s a very obvious effect,” Formaggio says, indicating that the particles are actually of two mutually exclusive types simultaneously.



Underwater microscope allows divers to image to μm scale on sea floor

In biological research the significance of observing or analysing our target of interest, be it protein, cells or whole organisms, in environments as close to physiologically relevant as possible, is universally accepted. However, traditionally marine biologists have been unable to make observations of marine life in their natural habitats, relying on recreating them in the lab. Until now…. the Benthic Underwater Microscope (BUM) created by Andrew Mullen and colleagues at the University of California is a ‘diver-deployed, portable instrument can record dynamic natural processes and spatial patterns with minimal disturbance to benthic organisms or their surrounding physical environment. In addition, extended time-series recordings can be collected to reveal slow or periodic activities and processes, allowing for studies of animal behaviour (for example, individual coral polyps)’ as described in their paper published in Nature communications.

The final system consists of two housings: one for the camera, lights and the lenses, the other for a computer controlling the camera along with a live diver interface and data storage. The researchers state that the ‘instrument allows us to clearly see features as small as one-hundredth of a millimeter underwater. An additional feature, a squishy electrically tunable lens, gives us the ability to rapidly focus on the objects that we are imaging. This allows us to capture all parts of an object with substantial three-dimensional relief in focus’.

Images taken using the camera have already had an impact with the first evidence of coral interacting with their neighbours. The coral have been shown to ‘embrace’ after capturing plankton, leading the researchers to believe that they are exchanging nutrients.



Written by: Brooke Lumicisi