Cancer Institute A national cancer institute
designated cancer center

Bioluminescence

Harnessing the glow-in-the-dark chemistry of fireflies, Christopher Contag, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics and of microbiology and immunology, has developed a new technique for studying gene activation and cell movement as they occur in living mammals.

Called bioluminescence imaging, this technique allows researchers to insert the "glow" genes from fireflies into human tumor cells, which are in turn placed into laboratory mice.

When these cells thrive, the firefly genes glow. When they are treated with a chemotherapeutic drug, their bioluminescence diminishes, allowing researchers to see the tumor shrinking.

This ultrasensitive technique is helping scientists test drugs that target cancer at its earliest stages when treatment is most effective and causes the fewest side effects.

 

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