Ironing Genes


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High levels of Ferritin show up in red, low levels in blue



An iron storage molecule in the cell, with the help of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can serve as an advanced tool for mapping gene expression.
Prof. Michal Neeman of the Weizmann Institute's Biological Regulation Department, together with Dr. Batya Cohen of the Molecular Genetics Department, altered the iron-bearing ferritin molecule to serve as a sort of gene “spy.” The scientists rendered ferritin sensitive to tetracycline, a common antibiotic, which serves as a switch, turning ferritin ON or OFF. As MRI is sensitive to magnetic particles such as iron, the cells' increased uptake of iron when ferritin is turned ON can be tracked, effectively exposing the genetically modified cells.
This method grew out of a joint vision that originated 10 years ago in a collaboration with the late Dr. Yoav Citri. It has far-reaching implications for monitoring the progress of gene therapy and for tracking gene expression in the central nervous system or during embryonic development.
Prof. Michal Neeman’s research is supported by the M.D. Moross Institute for Cancer Research; the Willner Family Center for Vascular Biology; the Mark Family Foundation; and Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Meadow.