Led by Dr. Sanjiv Gambhir, UCLA associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology and director of the Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging, the team's research will allow scientists to study how cellular proteins talk to one another. These communications trigger changes that regulate a healthy body and cause disease when the signals go awry.
Gambhir and his colleagues used an optical camera equipped with the same kind of computer chip used in home video cameras to convert light into electrons. The team injected luciferase, the protein that makes fireflies glow, into cells, then injected the cells into the mouse.
They saw a remarkable sight. Each time two specific proteins spoke with each other, it activated the luciferase. The luciferase illuminated under the camera and produced brilliant flashes of light in the mouse.
"The mouse literally glowed under the camera," said Gambhir, a member of the UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center. "We 'heard' the proteins 'talk' by watching the communication pathways come to life."
"In the past, we had to extract an individual cell from an animal and use a microscope to study how cellular proteins communicated with each other," Gambhir said. "Now we can watch proteins in the same cell talking to each other in their natural setting."
"It's similar to when the switchboard operator used to eavesdrop on people's telephone conversations," he said. "Our technique enables us to listen in on multiple conversations in cells taking place deep within a living animal."