Cell Culture Video on the Web
I used to work in a research lab, when most people imagine a research lab they think about scientists in white coats messing about with glass tubes of brightly coloured liquids. This is not quite right, these days most of the tubes are plastic and the liquids just look like water (they cost a lot more than water mind you!)
Many cancer research scientists grow cells in a lab. This is so they can do experiments on them, to find out what makes them grow faster or what kills them. Growing cells in a lab is called “cell culture” or “tissue culture”. In scientist slang it’s called “TC” or its not uncommon to here someone say “I’ll be in the hood..” (and they don’t mean their local ghetto.)
There is a short (6 minute) video on the EuroStemCell website called “Cell Culture” it gives a good description of what cell culture is (although in this case they are discussing stem cells rather than cancer cells specifically). Some cancer research is done using stem cells but not all stem cell research is aimed at cancer (a bit like all Sikh’s are Singh but not all Singh’s are Sikh…)
The EuroStemCell website also has a selection of cell photos, they all have imaginative titles, if you click on the image you’ll find the scientific title (which often makes no more sense than the artistic one (!). When doing experiments on cells in a dish, it is very common to “dye” them different colours to find out what is there. These dyes are antibodies and cost £200 for a drop. A drop does go a long way though, if your careful a tube of antibody can last you for a few months. The trouble is you don’t need just one tube, because you need controls and so experiments get expensive very quickly. I said at the start that most of the tubes contain liquids that look like water. Antibodies are no different, although you produce beautiful pictures (there are a few of my own decorating this site) when you have the antibody in the tube it is just another colourless (expensive) liquid.
I will illustrate this post with a picture I took of a Kidney Cancer Cell. In this picture there are three cells, the middle of each cell is dyed pink and the internal skeleton of the cell is dyed green. The pink dye shows this cell contains something called WT1″, if you inherit a damaged (mutated) WT-1 gene you are at risk of getting a type of cancer called Wilms Tumour. Wilms tumour is usually found in children and there are about 70 cases a year diagnosed in the UK. I could write a lot more about WT-1, but I better not, I’m sure you want to read a blog post, not an essay!