Posted on 6th July 2023 by Charlotte Ridler

Illuminating the city of cells inside cancer

Meet Dr Florian Laforêts, a postdoctoral researcher who has led the development of a new way to illuminate and film living tumours in the laboratory. The technique gives rise to stunning, nebula-like images of tumours that provide crucial new insights into how cancer behaves and how our immune cells attempt to fight it. Florian is a member of Professor Fran Balkwill’s lab at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London. The work was carried out in collaboration with researchers at the Institut Cochin in Paris, France.

See these images and hear Florian discuss this research in the video below:

Tumours are a fast-paced metropolis of different cells – a complex neighbourhood of cancer cells, immune cells and other cells that move, communicate, fight and co-operate. Conventionally, researchers examine static snapshots of cancer, taking pictures of single moments in time. But this approach fails to capture the true complexity and dynamism of the disease and its many moving parts. Ultimately, it is this complexity that underpins many of the challenges we face when treating the disease and tackling resistance to therapies.

But now, Florian and the team have published a paper in the journal iScience detailing a new technique they have developed to illuminate the inner workings of living tumours. Florian studies tumours that are kindly donated by patients with ovarian cancer whose tumours are surgically removed in nearby hospitals. Using the new technique, Florian then keeps these tumours alive in culture for 24 hours, allowing him to take the stunning time-lapse films of the cancer that can be seen in the video here.

However, as Florian explains, this is not just “pretty science”. From these images, he and the team can study how immune cells – which have a crucial role in fighting and killing cancer cells – move around the tumour, and how chemotherapy affects these cells’ behaviour. This technique could help us better understand the complex interactions at play inside of tumours, and find new ways to outmanoeuvre the disease to help people with cancer live longer, healthier lives.

This work was made possible thanks to grants from Cancer Research UK, Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, Wellbeing of Women, Barts Charity and a Ligue Nationale Contre le Cancer.


  • Original paper (and tumour films): Laforêts et al. iScience 26, 106514 (2023)  (CC BY 4.0)
  • Music: Cinematic Orchestral Arpeggio Trailer by Gregor Quendel (CC BY 4.0)

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