Time-Lapse Movies of Cells Show How They "Decide" to Keep Growing

Researchers improve cell-tracking tool with EllipTrack, a state-of-the-art technology that is easy for scientists to learn.

Grantee: Sabrina Spencer, PhD
Institution: University of Colorado in Boulder
Area of Focus: Cell Biology and Preclinical Cancer Research
Grant Term: 7/1/2018 to 6/30/2022

“The cells in our body have a life cycle, and can grow and divide at different rates. After each round of the cell division cycle, every cell makes a critical ‘decision.’ Should it grow by dividing? Or should it not divide? We’re using new technology to reveal ways to control the divide-not-divide ‘decision’ in cancer cells.”–Sabrina Spencer, PhD

Normal cells in our body grow and divide in an orderly way. They die when they are worn out or damaged, and they divide so new cells can be made to take their place. Cancer happens when there is a change in a cell or cells that causes them to grow out of control. When this happens, they keep growing and making new cells really quickly. The cancer cells crowd out normal cells.

With an ACS grant, Sabrina Spencer, PhD, and her team are developing a high-tech tracking and recording system, called EllipTrack, to see how nutrients, chemicals that cause growth, and cell damage or stress might influence the cell to divide or not divide. Spencer’s team is tagging proteins to track them and using a microscope to make time-lapse movies of cells. This allows the researchers to study what is happening to these cells.

Spencer's technology improves cell-tracking technology by being easier for scientists to learn and use, improving accuracy with less human labor.

Why Does it Matter? Spencer’s research may lead to a better understanding of when and how cells “choose” to divide, which may reveal new ways to stop cancer cells from growing. 

See the study.