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Near infrared light to help researchers hunt for cancers

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September 3, 2010

Professor Kevin Belfield and his team from the University of Florida developed a 'game-cha...

Professor Kevin Belfield and his team from the University of Florida developed a 'game-changing' technique to look deeper into the guts of cells. Image: Jason Greene

Cancer is an insidious disease, paying no heed to when, where or whom it might strike. But scientists continue to wage a war against it, hoping to claim the ultimate prize – a cure. Latest research from chemists at the University of Florida suggests a new technique using near infrared light could help scientists to view and photograph lysosomes – sac-like structures within cells – that are linked to cancer and other diseases.

Currently, imaging probes only work for a few minutes, they can not penetrate deep tissue, have poor water solubility and are sensitive to pH levels. University of Central Florida chemists, led by Professor Kevin Belfield, used near infrared light and fluorescent dye to probe deeper into the “guts” of cells, in particular, lysosomes – the cell’s thermostats and waste processors.

The probes will be able to be adapted to find specific proteins in tumors and will allow scientists to spend longer periods of time observing cells and tumors. The research scientists were able to take images of lysosomes for hours.

“This is a game-changer,” Belfield said. “Until now, there was no real way to study lysosomes because existing techniques have severe limitations. But the probe we developed is stable, which allows for longer periods of imaging.”

The technique will allow researchers to see lysosomes at work and hopefully make connections between their role and connection to diseases like cancer and Tay-Sachs, a genetic disorder which typically can cause children to die before the age of four.

“We’ve come up with something that should make a huge difference in finding answers to some very complicated conditions,” Belfield said.

It’s not the first time scientists have used infrared technology in cancer research, it has also proven to be successful in treating tumors in mice and to detect melanomas.

Belfield’s findings are published in this month’s Journal of the American Chemical Society. His findings include comparisons to the only two existing probes available today,

The project was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. Belfield and his team will continue their research with NIH funding. The UCF researchers are working with the Sanford-Burnham Institute for Medical Research on the tests required before clinical studies can begin.

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