Scientists say technology inspired by Google Earth is giving them a better understanding of how cancer cells evade the drugs meant to neutralise them.
Dr Edwin Hawkins from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute said the technology is used to watch how cancer cells and normal cells interact.
"We did that by creating optical windows which we 3D-printed and manufactured, and those gave us a way of looking deep inside the tissue with existing technology," he said.
Dr Hawkins said spying on the cancer cells was essential to understanding how they behaved.
"We made a way of using CCTV to spy on these cells and understand how they escape chemotherapy," he said.
"How they are interacting with their own environment inside the body when they’re first developing and how are they damaging the tissue, and how are they causing these side effects like pain in bones of these patients suffering."
Dr Hawkins said scientists previously thought cells hid from treatment by going to sleep, thus allowing them to evade chemotherapy.
"The cells weren’t doing that, they were darting around the body," he said.
"They were moving far quicker than we’d seen any cell move in the body ever before this time.
"The way to target them to stop them dead in their tracks was by targeting the proteins that function as legs on these cells."
Dr Hawkins and his team believe targeting the protein that made the cells move around could stop them, resulting in two possible outcomes.
"One it might make the chemotherapy better because they can’t evade it," Dr Hawkins said.
"But more importantly, we think that by targeting those proteins we’re going to shut down how that cell wants to function, and that that will cause it to undergo the cell death that we need."
Dr Hawkins said another question was how the cells came about in the first place.
"These cancer cells have very unstable DNA, they mutate and some of those mutations will do nothing and some will make the cell non-functional and they will die," he said.
"Some in this case has made them a lot stronger."
Dr Hawkins said the question became whether they had always existed in some "sort of Darwinian selection".
"That they were always floating around in the body and we selected them out, or there’s something about the chemotherapy that actually changed that cell itself."
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He said thanks to the new technology, researchers now had a powerful system enabling them to look at any disease interacting with the bones.
"About 40,000 Australians are diagnosed with metastatic cancer, that’s including melanoma, breast cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer," he said.
"And 90 per cent of people will suffer the consequences of problems with metastasis into secondary organs and most commonly bones."
He said scientists had long struggled with ways of looking at the biology of the cells and how they worked.
"Now we can do that," Dr Hawkins said.
"We can start to look at similar things happening for what we see in a leukaemia valve, metastatic breast cancer and the bone."
The new technology has implications for a wide range of diseases.
"This will inform us about new ways of developing treatments, similarly with a lot of auto-immune diseases as well that have lodged in the bone," he said.
"We’re looking at diseases like lupus and trying to figure out ways that we can get rid of those auto immune cells as well."
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