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Fluorescence helps scientists see HIV, cancer attack live cells

By Adriana Stuijt     Jan 10, 2009 in Health
A fluorescent protein discovered in jellyfish helps scientists and surgeons visualize molecular and cellular events in real time, a leading U.S. biochemical researcher said yesterday. Prof Roger Tsien describes it as a glowing molecular nametag. (radio)
Tsien, a professor at the University of California, San Diego won the 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his role with his team in developing the green fluorescent protein known as “GFP,”
He spoke to listeners on the United States'military BlogTalkRadio.com networkhere
He received the 2008 Nobel Prize for Chemistry in Sweden for his development of the green fluorescent proteine tag that can track movement through cells. Dr. Tsien 's work is funded by the Army’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs.
Using this protein, researchers now can track processes that were previously invisible, such as the cell-to-cell transmission of HIV. It can also track the live activity of cancer cells in a developing tumor.
“GFP gave us the first way to link molecular biology to something we could see,” Tsein said.
“When genes or proteins are made, scientists can now see directly when and where these molecular biological events occurred. "We can actually watch processes in continuous movies inside living organisms.”
He now is investigating new ways to defeat breast cancer as part of the Breast Cancer Research Program.
This congressionally directed medical research program is also funded by the Defense Department.
“We have funding to develop a new way of targeting synthetic molecules that could be used to identify tumors and eventually treat them,” Tsien said. “We wanted to do something that could be applied to real patients.”
Makes tumors glow
“This is a way to light up tumors for early detection and during surgeries, in particular, to help the surgeon hone in on a millimeter by millimeter scale exactly where the tumor cells are and where the boundary is for normal cells and actually do that at real time,” Tsien said. “We tried to use this biochemistry to actually make the tumor glow.'
"This helps guide the surgeon much more accurately than simply cutting out a hunk and waiting for the pathologist to declare whether you have a healthy margin around the dissected specimen.”
He hopes this research will provide tools for more focused chemo and radiation therapies.
And to help improve early detection of other diseases, such as stroke and atherosclerosis.
“It’s a great thrill to win the Nobel Prize, but you have to come back to reality. I’ve still got the same research challenges and everyday [duties] as everybody else,” he said.
More about Fluorescent proteine, Roger tsien, Gfp, Tumor, Stroke
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