Thanks to imaging and analysis techniques used by researchers at TU Delft, an international group of scientists has been able to gain more insight into the behaviour of cancerous cells. Delft researchers were the first to establish the changing positions of the ends of chromosomes (telomeres) in cells. It has been discovered that these telomeres behave differently in cancerous cells. An online article on this phenomenon has been published in the important American scientific journal PNAS.
According to Delft researcher Dr. Yuval Garini, the research focused on the structure and organisation of genetic material in the cores of cells, and how this changes in cancerous cells. In these experiments, a specific gene in a cell was disrupted, causing it to become cancerous. The behaviour of the chromosomes in the cell, more specifically the extremities of the chromosomes, called telomeres, were then studied. Previous research had already shown the scientists that, in healthy cells, these telomeres are organised in a well defined structure, which changes during the cell cycle.
The most recent research has shown that this organisation is disrupted in cancerous cells: the telomeres tangle together after cell division. The participating researchers from Delft, but also Canada, Germany en France, have seen how telomeres, and thus chromosomes get tangles in cancerous cells. At each next cell division, these chromosomes break off at random positions. As the open ends of the broken chromosomes are not protected, they look for other chromosomes to join with. The result is undesired combinations of chromosomes.
The role of TU Delft in his research was the numerical mapping and analysis of the changing positions of the telomeres and chromosomes, both in healthy and cancerous cells. To be able to track the telomeres, they were first chemically connected to fluorescent molecules. The labelled telomeres could then be followed with a so-called fluorescence microscope.
The Delft researchers (Dr. Yuval Garini and PhD student Bart Vermolen, from Prof.Dr. Ian Young’s research group) have developed an analysis method to numerically and geometrically record the positions of telomeres during the development of a cell.
By studying the position of the telomeres in the cell core, it may be possible to develop a better way of diagnosing whether or not a cell is cancerous. Also this new insight into the behaviour of telomeres may offer new opportunities for developments in cancer treatment.
According to Professor Ian Young , this research project is just one of many at TU Delft in which technological methods are used for medical research. He looks forward to a closer cooperation between the universities of Leiden and Rotterdam in this field.