Young woman in bed suffering from cancer

Tracking cells’ eating habits could aid cancer diagnosis

Image credit: Rido |

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh have developed new imaging technology to visualise what cells eat: a tool which could help with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other diseases.

The researchers designed chemical probes which light up when they attach to specific molecules that cells eat, such as glucose.

“We have very few methods to measure what cells eat to produce energy, which is what we know as cell metabolism,” said Dr Marc Vendrell, a senior lecturer in biomedical imaging at the university. “Our technology allows us to detect multiple metabolites simultaneously and in live cells, by simply using microscopes.”

All cells rely on glucose and other molecules for their survival, and if a cells’ eating habits change, it could be a warning sign of disease. To prevent this from happening, the team watched cells eating glucose inside live zebrafish embryos. They also found that this technique worked with human cells growing in a lab.

The team said that their approach could help detect tiny changes in cells’ eating habits inside the body, enabling diseases to be spotted sooner.

Scientists have developed a new imaging technology to visualize what cells eat, which could aid the diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer

The team has designed chemical probes that light up when they attach to specific molecules that cells eat, such as glucose; The University of Edinburgh

Image credit: The University of Edinburgh

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.

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

The study, published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, was funded by Medical Research Scotland, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the European Research Council.

In January 2019, researchers at the University of Surrey developed machine learning models which accurately predicts the emergence and severity of common psychological symptoms faced by cancer patients.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles