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‘Hot-wiring’ cells could be the future of cancer treatment

A team of scientists from the University of Warwick Medical School have developed a system which creates endocytosis in cells on demand, allowing them to ‘feed’ cells with drugs.

Endocytosis is an active process by which a cell transports molecules, such as proteins, into the cell by engulfing them. This process allows cells to import nutrients required for their growth and survival; endocytosis is also required for cell movement and communication.

The team, led by reader and senior Cancer Research UK fellow at Warwick Medical School, Dr Stephen Royle, triggered clathrin-mediated endocytosis (a transport event using the scaffold protein clathrin) using a chemical called rapamycin. This chemical diffuses into cells, allowing the triggering of endocytosis to occur all over the cell. Dr Royle explains that the team modified and used the cell’s own proteins – by removing all the unnecessary parts to be left with the essentials.

The team triggered clathrin-mediated endocytosis (a transport event using the scaffold protein clathrin) using a chemical called rapamycin

“We call the process of triggering endocytosis ‘hotwiring’ because it is similar to just twisting some wires together to start the car and make a getaway.” The team does note, however, that just like Hollywood films make hotwiring a car look easy, the system is rather difficult and time-consuming in reality.

The team’s study New Tools for ‘Hot-Wiring’ Clathrin-Mediated Endocytosis with Temporal and Spatial Precision, recently published in The Journal of Cell Biology, reveals ground-breaking work in the field. Cell biologists have studied how endocytosis works for decades, however, up until now they have found it impossible to control the process. Not only did the Warwick team trigger endocytosis on demand, but they also solved the problem of knowing where endocytosis will happen on the cell using a light-sensitive version of their system. This allowed the team to control where, as well as when, a vesicle that carries nutrients will form.

This new system and method will allow cell biologists to accurately study the timings and protein requirements of endocytosis. This method gives potential to delivering molecules to cells which cannot normally enter. Thanks to the Warwick Medical School team, eventually scientists may be able to ‘force feed’ cells with drugs or nanoparticles that are not actively taken up by cells; this could perhaps be the future of cancer treatment.


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