Lumos! US researchers show how light can be used to treat cancers

When researchers at the University of Cincinnati, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University at Buffalo came together, they decided to utilize the technology to focus on the diseases caused by dysfunctioning mitochondria.

What diseases can mitochondria cause?

Mitochondria are cell organelles present inside the cell which produce energy needed to carry out cellular functions. As the powerhouse of the cell, the role of mitochondria is very important. The cell has them in abundant numbers and can even fuse or split them apart depending on its requirements.

Hundreds of mitochondria can come together and form one large organelle through the process called fusion. When needed, these organelles can also divide further into smaller parts in a process called fission and maintain a healthy balance inside the cell.

When mitochondria are dysfunctional, the processes of fusion and fission are also affected, and this can lead to diseases like dementia and cancer, where the mitochondria numbers have been found to be far from normal. Recently, we reported another study where researchers treated a lethal type of cancer by restoring the number of mitochondria in the tumorous cells.

What role does optogenetics play?

Previous research has shown that another cell organelle called lysosome aids the process of fission of mitochondria. When a lysosome comes in contact with mitochondria, it acts like a pair of scissors and splits them.

The researchers used light-sensitive proteins that are found in plants and attached them to organelles in an animal cell. Since these proteins respond to light, they can be used to control the interaction between the organelles as well.

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