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Cell race turns science into spectator sport

BioPhotonics
Feb 2012
Ashley N. Paddock, ashley.paddock@photonics.com

DENVER – Learning more about how cells move is vitally important to cancer research as well as in areas such as embryonic development and human growth. But the serious nature of the work does not mean it can’t be fun, too, and the first World Cell Race mixed the fun of a scientific sporting event with serious research into how speed reflects the nature of certain cells.


The “colored running cells” show three RPE1 cells (from a human retina) running on separate tracks. Images courtesy of Timothée Vignaud, CEA.


Laboratories worldwide entered the event, held during the 51st annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology. Contestants shipped their frozen cell lines to one of six labs around the globe, where they were thawed, stained with fluorescent dyes and raced against the clock on specially designed microtracks. Each 400-µm-long track was coated with a natural substance, fibronectin, to give the cells the traction they needed to move.

A “team” of fast-moving bone marrow stem cells from the National University of Singapore finished first with a cellular speed of 5.2 µm/min. Second and third places were snagged by cell lines provided by Dr. Odile Filhol-Cochet of iRTSV/CEA in France. The second-place winners, which clocked in at 3.2 µm/min, were “wild type” normal mammary breast epithelial cells. The third-place cell culture comprised these mammary epithelial cells altered in the lab with a knocked-down casein kinase 2 and an overactive Ras pathway. That culture crossed the finish line at 2.7 µm/min.


The “montage-2” shows several pictures of RPE1 cells at various time points (every 10 min) running on a track.


The cells’ actions were recorded for 24 hours. Position and speed were analyzed by software at the Institut Curie in Paris, according to Dr. Manuel Théry, one of the race organizers.

In addition to being fun, the race generated valuable data which Théry said will provide a reference table that can be used for comparison in labs worldwide.

The winners were announced at the ASCB annual meeting, and each received a Nikon camera and a World Cell Race medal.


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