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How Bioluminescent Deep Sea Creatures Are Helping Us in the Fight Against Cancer

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A team of scientists at the Keck School of Medicine of USC is looking to some deep sea dwellers to create a better way to develop cancer-fighting therapies. Harnessing the power of the enzymes that give these marine animals the ability to glow, the team created a test that makes it easy for researchers to see whether a therapy is having its intended effect — killing cancer cells. The results of their study were published in Scientific Reports Jan. 9.

A team of scientists at the Keck School of Medicine of USC is looking to some deep sea dwellers to create a better way to develop cancer-fighting therapies. Harnessing the power of the enzymes that give these marine animals the ability to glow, the team created a test that makes it easy for researchers to see whether a therapy is having its intended effect — killing cancer cells. The results of their study were published in Scientific Reports Jan. 9.

“One of the most promising areas in cancer research is immunotherapy, including chimeric antigen receptor-T (CAR-T) cells. It is also one of the most difficult because the methods for testing immunotherapies are not ideal,” says corresponding author Preet M. Chaudhary, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the Keck School, chief of the division of hematology and center for blood diseases, and director for bone marrow transplant at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Radioactive chromium release assay is the gold standard for testing whether an immunotherapy kills cancer cells. This method is expensive, complicated and requires special disposal practices. Other available methods also suffer from limitations and don’t allow scientists to rapidly screen immunotherapeutic agents to find the best candidates.”

The team set out to develop a simple, precise and inexpensive test based on marine animal luciferases, the enzymes responsible for bioluminescence. A group of small crustaceans and deep sea shrimp were selected for their bright bioluminescence, and their luciferases became the basis of the test, called the Matador assay. Engineered to get trapped inside cells, the luciferases leak out of cells when they die, causing a visible glow. The level of luminescence can then be measured with a luminometer.

Read more at University of Southern California - Health Sciences