January 17, 2012
Australian researchers were surprised when an experiment literally laughed in their faces.
“We spend 90 per cent of our time going down dead ends, and sometimes you feel as though a disease is having a cackle at your expense,” says Dr Beric Henderson, head of the gene expression laboratory at Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research (WMI), where this was filmed.
“This just says it all. But we’ve never, ever seen anything like this ever before.”
The beta-catenin protein causes cancer by moving into the cell nucleus, the round “face” or centre of the cell (see attached photo), and activating a set of genes that transform normal cells into tumour cells.
In this highly-unusual image, beta-catenin (green) was monitored moving into the nucleus, the round shape in the centre. The dark patches in the nucleus that bear an uncanny resemblance to a smiley face, with eyes and a mouth, are actually parts of the nucleus where the beta-catenin protein cannot enter.
WMI researchers are trying to understand how beta-catenin moves into the nucleus and in future design drugs to stop its entry into the nucleus.