Identifying whether a potential drug is having an effect on cancer cells is not always obvious. If enough cells change their morphology, it’s fairly easy to see the change under a microscope. Spotting individual cells that are unique among millions of others is what researchers at Brown University have been working on. They developed a high speed vision system that outlines cells that just went through an epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT). Within tumors such cells lead to greater malignancy and increased drug resistance. The new imaging technique may allow researchers and clinicians to quickly identify whether a particular drug is preventing the transition process or whether it is letting it go its course.
Though epithelial and mesenchymal cells can look different, sometimes they’re nearly identical to the human eye. The Brown team taught a computer to spot the difference by first showing it cells that started as epithelial and were forced to transform into mesenchymal. Seeing them before and after, the software was eventually able to categorize them with a 92% accuracy. The algorithm was then tested on other groups of cells and again showed a high rate of accuracy.
The team has already been studying whether Taxol, a chemo agent, promotes the epithelial–mesenchymal transition in cells it does not kill. There are early findings pointing to that possibility, but more research is still required. What’s important is now there’s a new tool that can help scientists working in the field of drug research.
Study in journal Integrative Biology: Morphological single cell profiling of the epithelial–mesenchymal transition…