Glowing Mice Help Researchers Track Cancer

First Posted: Jan 18, 2013 11:27 AM EST

Scientists have created glowing kittens in the past, but now they've created glowing mice. Researchers from the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center have developed these rodents to express the "firefly" gene in an effort to study and battle aging and cancer.

In their study, Norman Sharpless and his team studied mice that glow when the p16 gene is activated. The p16 gene, which is known to play a role in both aging and cancer suppression, activates an important defense mechanism against tumors called "cellular senescence." The researchers examined these mice throughout their lifespans and tracked the brightness of each animal. They found that older mice glow brighter than younger mice, and that sites of cancer formation became extremely bright in each animal. This allowed the researchers to easily identify developing cancers early.

The researchers also made some surprising discoveries with the mice. The found that brighter animals were no more likely to die from spontaneous cancers than dimmer animals of the same age. Previously, they had predicted that the brighter animals would die sooner. In addition, the scientists found differences in the p16 levels among the mice. Since the mice were genetically identical and were subject to the same environmental conditions, the findings suggested that factors beyond genetics and diet influence the aging process.

These mice can give scientist a leg up when it comes to studying cancer and aging. With them researchers have a visual indication on how cancers and aging progress, and then can apply the information to humans.

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