Researchers studying the molecular details of how tumours grow within the body are faced with a challenge. Because it’s not really possible to peer inside a patient in this way, scientists have to use laboratory models. Either they can look at flat layers of human cancer cells living in plastic Petri dishes, which don’t accurately reflect the three-dimensional nature of a bulging tumour, or they can look at tumours growing in animals, which may not fully reflect what’s going on in human cancers. One solution is to make three-dimensional ‘miniguts’ (top and bottom left), created by allowing bowel cells to grow floating in liquid rather than sat on plastic. Using this technique, researchers have discovered that bowel cells lacking a small fragment of RNA called microRNA 34a – a molecule related to DNA – bloat into tumour-like spheres (right). Figuring out why this happens could point to new cancer treatments or prevention.
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences 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.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.