Comet Tails Reveal DNA Damage

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Submitted by Fred Lam of the Floyd Lab at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT

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This is a fluorescent microscopy image of the DNA of many cancer cells that have been treated with different anticancer therapies which cause damage to the DNA of these cells. Each object in the picture demonstrates different patterns that DNA can appear once they have been damaged, forming a ‘comet’ with a flaired tail. This allows us to quantify the amount of damage caused by, and therefore the effectiveness of, potential new therapies.

I took this image to discern the type of DNA damage, whether it be double-strand or single-strand breaks, caused by a small molecule inhibitor which I am using to treat different cancer cell lines in hopes of elucidating the mechanism(s) by which this inhibitor is causing death in these cells. The image shows that our inhibitor causes DNA damage in some but not all cell lines. The ability to discern the type of DNA damage caused by our inhibitor may help us further exploit that damage pathway to increase the in vivo efficacy of our inhibitor.