Nowhere to hide: Molecular probe illuminates elusive cancer stem cells in live mice

IMAGE: Cancer stem cells can be difficult to distinguish from standard tumor cells with conventional imaging (left), but the AlDeSense marker makes the cancer stem cells light up with fluorescence (right). view more 

Credit: Images by Chelsea Anorma

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — After a primary tumor is treated, cancer stem cells may still lurk in the body, ready to metastasize and cause a recurrence of the cancer in a form that’s more aggressive and resistant to treatment. University of Illinois researchers have developed a molecular probe that seeks out these elusive cells and lights them up so they can be identified, tracked and studied not only in cell cultures, but in their native environment: the body.

In a paper published in the journal ACS Central Science, the researchers described the probe’s effectiveness in identifying cancer stem cells in cultures of multiple human cancer cell lines as well as in live mice.

“It’s really the first time to be able to look at cancer stem cells in the complicated environment where they live – not only in cell cultures or artificial tumor environments,” said Illinois chemistry professor Jefferson Chan, who led the study. “Seeing them is the first step toward understanding


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