It may not seem as exciting as a title fight in Las Vegas, but for the cell biologists participating in the World's First Cell Race there was the same thrill of victory and the agony of defeat as they placed their cells on a special petri dish racetrack.
A line of bone marrow stem cells from the National University of Singapore walked — or whatever cells do — away with the honors traveling at 5.2 microns per minute. That's 0.000204 inches per minute to you and I.
How did they race the cells? Labs from all over the world heeded the call for frozen cells (the more usual the better, according to the rules) and shipped them to the Institut de Recherche en Technologies et Sciences pour le Vivant (IRTSV), where they were thawed, injected with dye and placed in specialized micro racetracks. Each 400-micron track was coated with a natural substance called fibronectin to give the cells traction to get moving.
Digital cameras recorded the cells for 24 hours. The position and speed were analyzed by software at the Institute Curie in Paris.
Why race cells — other than for the fun of it? Learning more about how cells move is a vitally important field of study in cancer research. Tumor cells that move autonomously are part of understanding how it spreads throughout the body. Cell motility is also important in understanding embryonic development and human growth.
The race has pointed to some valuable learning; it appears stem cells and cancer cells seem to be faster than their mature and healthy counterparts.
The winner was announced at last week's meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology. With 50 labs taking part, and over 70 cell lines entered in this unusual race, organizers from the IRTSV in Grenoble, France declared it a success.
Success indeed. We are already figuring out how to form an office pool and fantasy league for the World Cell Race II.