The battle of bone marrow versus breast cells

Forget who’ll win the X-Factor, Dancing with the Stars or even the Superbowl.  SRxA’s Word on Health brings you hot, breaking news from a world class content of microscopic mobility. We have to admit we almost missed this story and want to thank one of our regular readers, Jeff Boulier, for bringing it to our attention.

In an astonishing fear of athleticism, a line of bone marrow stem cells from Singapore beat out dozens of competitors to claim the title of the world’s fastest cells. They whizzed across a petri dish at the breakneck speed of 5.2 microns per minute — or 0.000000312 kilometers per hour!

Results of the World Cell Race were announced last week at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in Denver, Colorado. Organizers declared the competition a success: “50 participating labs all over the world! 70 cell lines recorded! Without a single dollar to fund the project!” said Manuel Théry from Institut de Recherche en Technologies et Sciences pour le Vivant (iRTSV) in Grenoble, France. Behind the fun is a serious goal: looking at how cells move. Ultimately, it is cell migration that helps embryos and organs to develop and allows cancer to spread. The contest provided a lot of new information.  For example, stem cells and cancer cells seem to be faster than their mature and healthy counterparts. Rather than actually racing the cells, teams shipped frozen cells to designated laboratories in Boston, London, Heidelberg, Paris, San Francisco, and Singapore. Thawed cells were placed in wells containing “race tracks”. Digital cameras then recorded the cells for 24 hours to determine the fastest run down the track for each cell line. In total, about 200 cells of each cell type were timed to see how long it took the fastest individual cell of each type to reach the end of its track.

The key to victory?  According to Théry, who co-organized the race with colleagues from Institut Curie in Paris, the secret is to  avoid changing direction.  Cells that went back and forth along the track took longer to finish. Coming in second were a line of breast epithelial cells from France, with third place going to the same cell type tweaked to reflect patterns observed in cancerous cells. They clocked 3.2 and 2.7 microns per minute respectively.  Finishing fourth, at a still respectable 2.5 microns per minute, was the UK team of cultured human skin cells derived from patients with a rare genetic skin disorder. The winners received Nikon digital cameras and coveted World Cell Race medals.

What next?  Cellular showdowns in swimming and weightlifting or perhaps a full scale Cyto-lympics!