Breast cancer cells corrupting their neighbours.

The 5 biggest Crick stories of the year: 2019

After a busy year at the Crick, we look back at the science stories that made the biggest splash in 2019. This year's selection includes ways to block cancer 'super-highways', a new insight into Crohn's disease and a LEGO-powered microscope set-up.
  • Date created: 16 December 2019

Cancer cells ‘corrupt’ their healthy neighbours

Cancer cells ‘corrupt’ their healthy neighbours

Researchers in Ilaria Malanchi's lab developed a new method to study the tissue around a tumour - called the tumour microenvironment - and found that healthy cells around tumours become more like stem cells and help the tumours to grow.

This image, which was featured on the front cover of Nature, shows metastatic breast cancer cells, which have been tagged with a yellow protein. The cells around them (red) have been marked by the cancerous cells and will help the tumour to grow. The untouched, healthy cells are shown in white.

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Crick lab: Tumour-Host Interaction Laboratory

Cancerous cells and the tumour microenvironment.

Distinguishing helpful and harmful gut immune cells offers new perspective on inflammatory disorders

Distinguishing helpful and harmful gut immune cells offers new perspective on inflammatory disorders

A Crick-led study published in Immunity found that Th17 cells, a type of immune cell in our gut, exists in two forms, 'good' and 'bad'. The 'good' cells maintain normal gut health, while the 'bad' cells kick into action to respond to diseases, while also causing some gut disorders.

It could explain why some treatments for conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn's disease haven't been effective, as they have often targeted both cell types and could have been damaging the 'good' cells and disrupting healthy gut flora.

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Crick lab: AhRimmunity Laboratory

Th17 immune cells from the gut of a healthy mouse, imaged with confocal microscopy.

Th17 immune cells from the gut of a healthy mouse, imaged with confocal microscopy.

New insights could help block the path of cancer ‘super-highways’

New insights could help block the path of cancer ‘super-highways’

A key mechanism controlling tissue structure, which could help identify drugs that make it harder for cancer cells to spread, was identified by a collaboration between two Crick groups.

The two studies, published in Nature Materials and PLOS Computational Biology, show how cancerous cells force the tissue around them to create 'channels' that the cancer then uses to spread through the body. Using a combination of experimental and computational biology, the studies identified how collisions between cells help to create the tissue structures and the authors identified drugs which could stop this process from happening.

Read the full news story.

Crick labs: Tumour Cell Biology Laboratory and Biomolecular Modelling Laboratory

LEGO

LEGO-powered cutting-edge microscopy

Researchers at the Crick, Aix University and the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology at UCL created an inexpensive, automated way to image biological samples using the children's toy, LEGO.

The set-up (known as NanoJ-Fluidics and nicknamed Pumpy McPumpface) can be adapted to most microscopes and offers an accessible, customisable and economical way to image biological samples over a period of time in a changing environment.

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Quantitative Imaging and Nanobiophysics lab at the MRC LMCB and the Crick

LEGO-powered microscope

NanoJ-Fluidics device built with LEGO. 

- Ricardo Henriques

Pancreas imaging

New 3D imaging technique reveals how pancreatic cancers start

After a chance meeting in the Crick's bike shed, two research groups developed a new technique to image tissue samples in 3D and published the results in Nature

They used the technique to examine the early stages of pancreatic tumour development and identified to distinct types of cancer formation: ‘endophytic’ tumours which grow into the ducts and ‘exophytic’ tumours which grow outwards.

Read the full news story.

Crick labs: Adult Stem Cell Laboratory and Theoretical Physics of Biology Laboratory

Pancreas image from light microscopy.

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