Created by Khuloud T Al-Jamal and Izzat Suffian, this Scanning electron micrograph shows the treatment of a cluster of breast cancer cells (coloured blue). The image was was one of the 18 winning images in the Wellcome Image Awards 2014, which celebrate the best in science imaging talent and techniques.
The breast cancer cells have been treated with nanometre-sized particles (nanocarriers) carrying the anticancer drug doxorubicin. This is causing some of the cells to die (coloured purple) through a process known as programmed cell death, or apoptosis, which is where cells effectively commit suicide in a controlled, predictable way. Being able to specifically turn on this pathway in cancer cells will reduce a tumour’s size and hopefully limit its growth.
Doxorubicin does not discriminate between normal, healthy cells and cancer cells and can affect both. To overcome this, the nanocarrier can be chemically modified to recognise some tumour cells and deliver the drug to the intended target. The diameter of the cell cluster is approximately 250 micrometres (0,25 mm). The nanocarriers used to treat these cells are approximately 6 nanometres (0,000006 mm) in size.
Image credit: Khuloud T Al-Jamal and Izzat Suffian | Wellcome Images