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Scope 65 - ‘Seahorse’ fuelling next stage of cancer cell metabolism research

4 May 2018

The Malaghan Institute has recently acquired a new piece of technology that allows scientists to accurately measure the fuel consumption of cells in real time. This technology – the Seahorse XF Analyser will deliver benefits across the Institute, including helping us better understand the energy demands of immune and cancer cells during development, and find ways to inhibit their metabolism.

How cancer cells use energy says a lot about how they work and what they need to stay alive. At different stages of growth – from primary tumour to metastatic growth - the energy demands and types of fuels cells use can vary greatly.

“Glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation are the major energy-producing pathways in the cell,” says senior research manager Carole Grasso. “Most cells have the ability to switch between these two pathways, thereby adapting to changes in their environment.”

With the ability to directly measure the oxygen consumption rate and the extracellular acidification rate in real time, the Seahorse enables researchers like Carole to get a closer look at the metabolic activity of cancer cells.

One of the long-term goals for the Seahorse is to understand what happens to the metabolic needs of cancer cells when they’re damaged by therapeutic drugs and irradiation. How do their energy demands change? What happens to their mitochondrial DNA? Does damaging the mitochondria cause cancer cells to take up healthy mitochondria from the environment? Gaining a better picture of this process may one day help to make cancer treatments more effective, or find ways of blocking mitochondrial uptake in cancer cells.