Researcher Uses Firefly Enzyme to Monitor Cancer Cell Activity

Published on: 2018/03/14 - in Science & Tech


A Queen’s University researcher has developed a biosensor that uses the firefly enzyme luciferase to monitor cancer cell activity.

Dr. Xiaolong Yang and his team – PhD candidates Taha Azad, Helena J. Janse van Rensburg, and Ben Yeung, and research associate Yawei Haov – created a light emission-based biosensor using luciferase to observe cancer cells, possibly allowing for new discoveries in combating the spread of cancer.

“Our labs have recently shown that aberrant changes in a group of proteins called the Hippo signaling pathway may be involved in cancer development,” Dr. Yang said in the Queen’s Gazette. “In this study, by using the luciferase enzyme extracted from fireflies as a reporter, we have created a new biosensor tool that allows researchers to measure the activity of the Hippo signaling pathway protein in cancers in real-time.”

Over 90 percent of cancer deaths are due to cancer cells spreading to other organs in the body (metastasis) at late stages of its progression. Currently, there is no treatment to cure metastatic cancers, but Dr. Yang’s findings provide new evidence that targeting the Hippo signaling protein can effectively cut off the nutrient supply of cancer cells by inhibiting blood vessel formation.

“Almost all people have family members or friends who are diagnosed with or die of cancer,” said Dr. Yang. “Our new tool allows us to detect cancerous cells’ behavior in a new way and will help future development of therapeutic drugs for preventing the most devastating and drug-resistant cancers from growing or spreading.”

This research may also allow for new treatments in diseases where angiogenesis – the process through which new blood vessels form from pre-existing vessels – is a factor, including age-related macular degeneration, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Read more about this research in Nature Communications.

Photo: Terry Priest (cc)