Within the framework of the European ATLAS project, a team of researchers in Naples has created a LASER-based prototype that could revolutionize medicine and our knowledge of the human genome.
The project, brainchild of brother and sister Lucia and Carlo Altucci, has brought together two scientific teams from two very different horizons: physicists and biologists.
The idea of the prototype is to use ultrashort UV-laser pulses. Carlo Altucci, a researcher in optics, invented the machine in his lab. The LASER pulses are delivered on the order of the femtosecond, in other words one millionth of one billionth of a second. Aimed at a sample of cells, the pulse forms a permanent cross-link between the cell's DNA and the proteins interacting with it. These interactions, which are extremely brief, are thus fixated and can be observed.
This prototype represents a major breakthrough in the intricate understanding of cellular mechanisms. Until now, researchers used chemical reactions to determine DNA/protein cross-links. But these reactions typically take one minute or more, largely insufficient for capturing processes much shorter than a second.
Genetic regulation depends on several factors, notably proteins, which influence genetic activity. The applications of this system range from understanding cellular dysfunctions — such as cancer — and determining new therapies, to the mapping of the human genome. Lucia Altucci, an oncologist, is currently testing it on cancer cells in hopes of furthering the fight against breast cancer.