The cell imaging application pretends to involve citizens to participate in cancer research, by analyzing images which are taken from real cells undergoing treatment for drug delivery. This image survey participation allows to made progresses in the study of cell-death, that is known as apoptosis, present in diseases like cancer.
You can contribute to the analysis of tumor cells from your home.
It’s easy: the application displays different images of cell cultures taken by a microscope. After that, the involving citizens can determine the state of cells by answering some simple questions like “Is circular or elongated cell?” or “Is the nucleus fragmented?”. So that, the researchers can learn what is happening in each crop and whether medication applied to each one of them are proving effective.
Each image is sent to multiple participants to validate the results.
All living beings are made out of cells. Plants and animals contain many different cells. There are also unicellular organisms, made out of a single cell, as protozoa, yeast or bacteria. All cells are originated by division of other cells, except the first cell that appeared millions of years ago, at the origin of life.
Pluricellular organisms usually reproduce by the sexual way. After fecundation of an oocyte by a sperm cell, the new cell, known as zygote, begins to divide itself, forming an aggregate of many cells identical between them. During embryo development these cells differentiate into several cell types, giving shape to the embryo through morphogenetic movements. A human being contains around 200 cell types.
Each cell type occupies a defined place within the organism, specializing in specific tasks. Cells within a living being coordinate precisely between them in order to allow the survival of the organism, forming tissues and organs. Some cells, as neurons, are not usually replaced by others when they dye. Nevertheless, inside most tissues and organs cells age, die and are replaced by others through the cell division process. Our organs function correctly due to the precise coordination of their cells. Each cell is a complex living being that contains small organs, known as organelles, as mitochondria or the endoplasmic reticulum.
Proteins are essential molecules for life. Many or them are real microscopic machines specialized in certain tasks. Some proteins function by copying fragments of DNA that contain genetic information, the genes, synthesizing another informative molecule, RNA.
Ribosomes, made out of proteins and RNA, translate the information from RNA into protein molecules, assembling amino acids, which then perform specific functions. Genetic information, organized as a sequence of certain letters, the nucleotides, can change when those letters change, producing a mutation. The change in DNA nucleotides can produce a change in the amino acids of proteins, modifying their activities and eventually giving rise to pathologies of genetic origin, like cancer.
Cancer originates by the uncontrolled division of a certain cell type, which produces a tumor. In malign tumors some of those cells can leave the original tumor and travel through the blood to other body regions. Although many of these cells die, some are able to establish themselves in other tissues, forming new tumors. This is known and metastasis.
One of the current approaches to fight cancer consists on the identification of chemicals, possible drugs that selectively eliminate tumor cells, assaying thousands or even millions of candidates using robotic systems.
The effect of such chemicals on cells can be studied using multidimensional light microscopy. To carry out these type of studies are commonly used automated microscopy systems [are used], which allow us to observe the response of tumor cells cultured in vitro to different treatments over time, by acquiring images at defined intervals. The observation of different cell organelles labeled with fluorescent molecules of several colors allows us to determine the type of cell response to a chemical.
The different images acquired can be combined in composite images that allow observation of several organelles at the same time. For instance, blue nuclei and green mitochondria combined with bright field microscopy (grey tones) to observe the cell as a whole.
This way we can observe the process of cell division, which begins with cell rounding. The nucleus, initially rounded, gets compacted into a band that later divides into two, before getting rounded again. We can also observe changes in mitochondria or in the whole cell during this process.
There are two major types of cell death, apoptosis and necrosis. Apoptosis is a type of physiological death during which the cell shrinks, its surface blebs and its nucleus gets condensed and/or fragmented. Mitochondria, which are usually worm-shaped, brake into little balls, what can be observed in this multinucleated cell. During necrosis, a type or cell death that usually takes place due to intense physical or chemical damage, the nucleus does not shrink or fragment, but cell content is released, what can be observed as bubbles growing around the cell. In these last cells, mitochondria have been stained red. Cell content release during necrosis produces an inflammatory response.
An antitumor compound should ideally induce selective apoptotic cell death, since apoptotic cells are eliminated by the immune system without inflammation of the surrounding tissue.
José Alberto Carrodeguas Villar
Patricia Martínez Alonso
María Alejandra Nelo Bazán
Alan Eduardo Vigueras Ceballos
Radio Intereconomía, Zaragoza December 2013