Putting a trace on cancer

Bin Liu and Ben Zhong Tang of the A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering in Singapore and their colleagues have developed a method of tracing cells that overcomes the limitations of existing methods. The team’s fluorescent organic tracers will provide researchers with a non-invasive tool to continually track biological processes for long periods. Applications for the tracers include following carcinogenesis or the progress of interventions such as stem cell therapies. The assembly of the tracers begins with synthesis of 2,3-bis(4- (phenyl(4-(1,2,2-triphenylvinyl)phenyl)amino)phenyl)fumaronitrile (TPETPAFN), which the researchers then encapsulated in an insoluble lipid-based matrix that is then attached to a viral peptide to exploit the ability of these molecules to be taken up efficiently by living cells. Proof of principle experiments have allowed them to trace isolated breast cancer cells in vitro for 10 to 12 generations and glioma cells in mice for three weeks.