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Biophotonic Nanoswitches control the life cycle of cells

9 October 2013

Biophotonic Nanoswitches

Researchers from Cardiff University's School of Chemistry along with their colleagues from the Schools of Medicine and Pharmacy have created light-responsive peptides that are able to induce cell death in cancer cells when activated with externally applied light pulses.

Intricate networks of interactions between cellular proteins control all molecular processes in every cell of all living organisms. The group of Professor Rudolf Allemann has developed a techniqu e where a small section of a protein is linked to a photoresponsive dye. The dye molecule is then used to control the shape of the protein fragment by irradiation with light, in essence allowing protein-protein interactions to be switched on and off at will and providing researchers with an instrument to control the fate of all cells.

The team has used this approach to induce cell death (apoptosis) in variety of cancer cells. Complex mechanisms in healthy cells normally protect us from developing cancer. However, when the finely balanced networks of interactions between proteins that control such mechanisms are disturbed, uncontrolled cell growth can occur. In their wok, published in a recent article of the journal Molecular Biosystems (!divAbstract), the Cardiff researchers have synthesised short peptides that after irradiation with light can activate the early stages of apoptosis, thereby leading to the death of the cancerous cells.

Professor Allemann said: "Recent advances in the physical sciences have led to new approaches to study and manipulate live cells. Our research at Cardiff may eventually lead to photo-controlled drugs and tools to probe molecular interactions in intact cells and whole organisms with enormous consequences for how biomedical research is done".

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