Using light to restore cell function

New research from the University of Cincinnati shows early indications that light can be used as a treatment for certain diseases, including cancer.

Researchers from UC, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University at Buffalo published the results of their study demonstrating light-activated proteins can help normalize dysfunction within cells in the journal Nature Communications July 25.

The research centers on the functions of mitochondria, organelles within a cell that act as the cell’s “power plant” and source of energy. Organelles are tiny specialized structures that perform various jobs inside cells.

Jiajie Diao, PhD, one of the study’s authors, said hundreds of mitochondria are constantly coming together (a process called fusion) and dividing into smaller parts (a process called fission) to stay balanced in healthy cells. But when mitochondria are not functioning properly, there is an imbalance of this process of fission and fusion.

This imbalance can lead to a number of mitochondrial diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and certain cancers.

Diao said previous research found that another organelle within cells called a lysosome can play a role in mitochondria fission. When a mitochondria comes in contact with a lysosome, the lysosome can act like a pair of scissors and cut the mitochondria into smaller pieces.

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