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Tunnel Vision

Using a scaffold to investigate cancer cells' tunnelling nanotubes that enable long-distance intercellular communication

24 June 2022

Tunnel Vision

A map drawn on a piece of paper can’t give you the full impression of a region’s real-world three-dimensional complexity. The same applies to cancer cells, as many experiments designed to improve our understanding examine their behaviour in a flat environment. Suspecting that tumour cell behaviour may be different in the depths of our bodies, researchers have developed a scaffold to enable and observe 3D growth. The study investigated tunnelling nanotubes (TNTs) long extensions from the cancer cells as they grew on a structure made of crosshatched nanofibres (pictured). TNTs transmit signals between cells and allow tumours to extend their microenvironments in many directions, ultimately aiding and abetting cancer spread. Describing the microscopic biophysics of these terrible tentacles, and providing a platform for further investigation, will help explain how cancers corrupt their environment and spread to new areas, as well as possibly pointing to new ways of keeping them in check.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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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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