Cancer behaves according to the cell type from which it originates. Treatments tailor-made for different cancers can be more effective than a blanket approach which can kill healthy cells. This relies on identifying the original cell type. Cancer cells shed from their source can metastasize [traffic to other organs] and occasionally these secondary cancers are detected without ever finding the source. Pink and purple dyes (left) help to highlight the enlarged cancer cells in this patient sample (< 1 mm across). But to reveal the cancer’s origin, requires immunohistochemistry. A sliver of tumour tissue is flooded with a specialised antibody, a protein that paints the cells brown only when it binds to its specific target. This tumour (right) contains a breast-specific protein, mammaglobin. In this study scientists developed a ’protein fingerprint’ based on several antibodies, which identified the primary cancer type and so informed its best treatment.
Written by Claire Worrall
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (the new name for the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre) the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.