Jellyfish that glow in the dark are being used to light up cancerous tumors in laboratory experiments.
Scientists put fluorescent proteins from a common jellyfish into human cancer cells then use a special camera to find them.
A team from the Yorkshire Cancer Research Laboratory at York University has developed the procedure and its leader, Professor Norman Maitland, believes it will revolutionize the way some cancers are diagnosed.
"Cancers deep within the body are difficult to spot at an early stage, and early diagnosis is critical for the successful treatment of any form of cancer," he said.
"X-rays, for example, struggle to penetrate well deeply into tissues and bone, so diagnosing dangerous microscopic bone cancer is difficult. Our process should allow earlier diagnosis to take place."When a specially developed camera is switched on, the proteins just flare up and you can see where the cancer cells are. We call the process 'virimaging.'"
The potential breakthrough follows ground-breaking work by American chemist Dr. Roger Y. Tsien, who won a Nobel Prize in 2008 for taking luminous cells from the Crystal Jellyfish and isolating the glowing protein.
The York team's process uses an altered form of the protein so that it shows up as red or blue, rather than its original green.
Viruses containing the proteins are targeted to home in on tiny bundles of cancer cells scattered throughout the body, too small to be seen by conventional scanning techniques.
But the viruses grow and, while doing so, make more and more of the fluorescent proteins.