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New imaging technique highlights biomolecules and drug localisation in cells

10 September 2021

Ion the Inside

Cancer chemotherapies often aim to destroy or disable cancer cells. But how and where drugs work inside cells is often predicted rather than observed. Here, a new technique called high-definition multiplex ion beam imaging reveals the precise location of tiny molecules. A beam of charged particles or ions, scans across the nucleus of this human cancer cell, releasing secondary ions – a slew of tell-tale particles that ping away when an ion beam hits. Pumped into a mass spectrometer, these act like chemical fingerprints, highlighting important structures like DNA (dark blue), regions where transcription is likely occurring (green) and nuclear speckles (purple). Building on this technique, researchers believe that cisplatin, a common anti-cancer drug, needs to move to these green and purple-coloured regions – finding new paths to these areas might be a way to battle resistant cancers.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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