Cytotoxic T Cells Caught On Film Destroying Cancer Cells

Cytotoxic T Cells Caught On Film Destroying Cancer Cells
This is a cytotoxic T cell - the body's 'serial killers' - as it
hunts down and eliminates cancer cells.
(Credit: Gillian Griffiths/Jonny Settle)
A dramatic video has captured the behaviour of cytotoxic T cells - the body's 'serial killers' - as they hunt down and eliminate cancer cells before moving on to their next target.

In a study published in the journal Immunity, researchers describe how specialised members of our white blood cells known as cytotoxic T cells destroy tumour cells and virally-infected cells. Using state-of-the-art imaging techniques, the research team has captured the process on film.

There are billions of T cells within our blood - one teaspoon full of blood alone is believed to have around 5 million T cells, each measuring around 10 micrometres in length, about a tenth the width of a human hair. Each cell is engaged in the ferocious and unrelenting battle to keep us healthy. The cells, seen in the video as orange or green amorphous 'blobs' move around rapidly, investigating their environment as they travel.

When a cytotoxic T cell finds an infected cell or, in the case of the film, a cancer cell (blue), membrane protrusions rapidly explore the surface of the cell, checking for tell-tale signs that this is an uninvited guest. The T cell binds to the cancer cell and injects poisonous proteins known as cytotoxins (red) down special pathways called microtubules to the interface between the T cell and the cancer cell, before puncturing the surface of the cancer cell and delivering its deadly cargo.

Based on material originally posted by University of Cambridge.