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KAIST presents a fundamental technology to remove metastatic traits from lung cancer cells
KAIST (President Kwang Hyung Lee) announced on January 30th that a research team led by Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho from the Department of Bio and Brain Engineering succeeded in using systems biology research to change the properties of carcinogenic cells in the lungs and eliminate both drug resistance and their ability to proliferate out to other areas of the body. As the incidences of cancer increase within aging populations, cancer has become the most lethal disease threatening healthy life. Fatality rates are especially high when early detection does not happen in time and metastasis has occurred in various organs. In order to resolve this problem, a series of attempts were made to remove or lower the ability of cancer cells to spread, but they resulted in cancer cells in the intermediate state becoming more unstable and even more malignant, which created serious treatment challenges. Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho's research team simulated various cancer cell states in the Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) of lung cancer cells, between epithelial cells without metastatic ability and mesenchymal cells with metastatic ability. A mathematical model of molecular network was established, and key regulators that could reverse the state of invasive and drug resistant mesenchymal cells back to the epithelial state were discovered through computer simulation analysis and molecular cell experiments. In particular, this process succeeded in properly reverting the mesenchymal lung cancer cells to a state where they were sensitive to chemotherapy treatment while avoiding the unstable EMT hybrid cell state in the middle process, which had remained a difficult problem. The results of this research, in which KAIST Ph.D. student Namhee Kim, Dr. Chae Young Hwang, Researcher Taeyoung Kim, and Ph.D. student Hyunjin Kim participated, were published as an online paper in the international journal “Cancer Research” published by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) on January 30th. (Paper title: A cell fate reprogramming strategy reverses epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition of lung cancer cells while avoiding hybrid states) Cells in an EMT hybrid state, which are caused by incomplete transitions during the EMT process in cancer cells, have the characteristics of both epithelial cells and mesenchymal cells, and are known to have high drug resistance and metastatic potential by acquiring high stem cell capacity. In particular, EMT is further enhanced through factors such as transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) secreted from the tumor microenvironment (TME) and, as a result, various cell states with high plasticity appear. Due to the complexity of EMT, it has been very difficult to completely reverse the transitional process of the mesenchymal cancer cells to an epithelial cell state in which metastatic ability and drug resistance are eliminated while avoiding the EMT hybrid cell state with high metastatic ability and drug resistance. Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho's research team established a mathematical model of the gene regulation network that governs the complex process of EMT, and then applied large-scale computer simulation analysis and complex system network control technology to identify and verify 'p53', 'SMAD4', and 'ERK1' and 'ERK 2' (collectively ERKs) through molecular cell experiments as the three key molecular targets that can transform lung cancer cells in the mesenchymal cell state, reversed back to an epithelial cell state that no longer demonstrates the ability to metastasize, while avoiding the EMT hybrid cell state. In particular, by analyzing the molecular regulatory mechanism of the complex EMT process at the system level, the key pathways were identified that were linked to the positive feedback that plays an important role in completely returning cancer cells to an epithelial cell state in which metastatic ability and drug resistance are removed. This discovery is significant in that it proved that mesenchymal cells can be reverted to the state of epithelial cells under conditions where TGF-β stimulation are present, like they are in the actual environment where cancer tissue forms in the human body. Abnormal EMT in cancer cells leads to various malignant traits such as the migration and invasion of cancer cells, changes in responsiveness to chemotherapy treatment, enhanced stem cell function, and the dissemination of cancer. In particular, the acquisition of the metastatic ability of cancer cells is a key determinant factor for the prognosis of cancer patients. The EMT reversal technology in lung cancer cells developed in this research is a new anti-cancer treatment strategy that reprograms cancer cells to eliminate their high plasticity and metastatic potential and increase their responsiveness to chemotherapy. Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho said, "By succeeding in reversing the state of lung cancer cells that acquired high metastatic traits and resistance to drugs and reverting them to a treatable epithelial cell state with renewed sensitivity to chemotherapy, the research findings propose a new strategy for treatments that can improve the prognosis of cancer patients.” Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho's research team was the first to present the principle of reversal treatment to revert cancer cells to normal cells, following through with the announcement of the results of their study that reverted colon cancer cells to normal colon cells in January of 2020, and also presenting successful re-programming research where the most malignant basal type breast cancer cells turned into less-malignant luminal type breast cancer cells that were treatable with hormonal therapies in January of 2022. This latest research result is the third in the development of reversal technology where lung cancer cells that had acquired metastatic traits returned to a state in which their metastatic ability was removed and drug sensitivity was enhanced. This research was carried out with support from the Ministry of Science and ICT and the National Research Foundation of Korea's Basic Research in Science & Engineering Program for Mid-Career Researchers. < Figure 1. Construction of the mathematical model of the regulatory network to represent the EMT phenotype based on the interaction between various molecules related to EMT. (A) Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho's research team investigated numerous literatures and databases related to complex EMT, and based on comparative analysis of cell line data showing epithelial and mesenchymal cell conditions, they extracted key signaling pathways related to EMT and built a mathematical model of regulatory network (B) By comparing the results of computer simulation analysis and the molecular cell experiments, it was verified how well the constructed mathematical model simulated the actual cellular phenomena. > < Figure 2. Understanding of various EMT phenotypes through large-scale computer simulation analysis and complex system network control technology. (A) Through computer simulation analysis and experiments, Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho's research team found that complete control of EMT is impossible with single-molecule control alone. In particular, through comparison of the relative stability of attractors, it was revealed that the cell state exhibiting EMT hybrid characteristics has unstable properties. (B), (C) Based on these results, Prof. Cho’s team identified two feedbacks (positive feedback consisting of Snail-miR-34 and ZEB1-miR-200) that play an important role in avoiding the EMT hybrid state that appeared in the TGF-β-ON state. It was found through computer simulation analysis that the two feedbacks restore relatively high stability when the excavated p53 and SMAD4 are regulated. In addition, molecular cell experiments demonstrated that the expression levels of E-cad and ZEB1, which are representative phenotypic markers of EMT, changed similarly to the expression profile in the epithelial cell state, despite the TGF-β-ON state. > < Figure 3. Complex molecular network analysis and discovery of reprogramming molecular targets for intact elimination of EMT hybrid features. (A) Controlling the expression of p53 and SMAD4 in lung cancer cell lines was expected to overcome drug resistance, but contrary to expectations, chemotherapy responsiveness was not restored. (B) Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho's research team additionally analyzed computer simulations, genome data, and experimental results and found that high expression levels of TWIST1 and EPCAM were related to drug resistance. (C) Prof. Cho’s team identified three key molecular targets: p53, SMAD4 and ERK1 & ERK2. (D), (E) Furthermore, they identified a key pathway that plays an important role in completely reversing into epithelial cells while avoiding EMT hybrid characteristics, and confirmed through network analysis and attractor analysis that high stability of the key pathway was restored when the proposed molecular target was controlled. > < Figure 4. Verification through experiments with lung cancer cell lines. When p53 was activated and SMAD4 and ERK1/2 were inhibited in lung cancer cell lines, (A), (B) E-cad protein expression increased and ZEB1 protein expression decreased, and (C) mesenchymal cell status including TWIST1 and EPCAM and gene expression of markers related to stem cell potential characteristics were completely inhibited. In addition, (D) it was confirmed that resistance to chemotherapy treatment was also overcome as the cell state was reversed by the regulated target. > < Figure 5. A schematic representation of the research results. Prof. Cho’s research team identified key molecular regulatory pathways to avoid high plasticity formed by abnormal EMT of cancer cells and reverse it to an epithelial cell state through systems biology research. From this analysis, a reprogramming molecular target that can reverse the state of mesenchymal cells with acquired invasiveness and drug resistance to the state of epithelial cells with restored drug responsiveness was discovered. For lung cancer cells, when a drug that enhances the expression of p53, one of the molecular targets discovered, and inhibits the expression of SMAD4 and ERK1 & ERK2 is administered, the molecular network of genes in the state of mesenchymal cells is modified, eventually eliminating metastatic ability and it is reprogrammed to turn into epithelial cells without the resistance to chemotherapy treatments. >
Every Moment of Ultrafast Chemical Bonding Now Captured on Film
- The emerging moment of bond formation, two separate bonding steps, and subsequent vibrational motions were visualized. - < Emergence of molecular vibrations and the evolution to covalent bonds observed in the research. Video Credit: KEK IMSS > A team of South Korean researchers led by Professor Hyotcherl Ihee from the Department of Chemistry at KAIST reported the direct observation of the birthing moment of chemical bonds by tracking real-time atomic positions in the molecule. Professor Ihee, who also serves as Associate Director of the Center for Nanomaterials and Chemical Reactions at the Institute for Basic Science (IBS), conducted this study in collaboration with scientists at the Institute of Materials Structure Science of High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK IMSS, Japan), RIKEN (Japan), and Pohang Accelerator Laboratory (PAL, South Korea). This work was published in Nature on June 24. Targeted cancer drugs work by striking a tight bond between cancer cell and specific molecular targets that are involved in the growth and spread of cancer. Detailed images of such chemical bonding sites or pathways can provide key information necessary for maximizing the efficacy of oncogene treatments. However, atomic movements in a molecule have never been captured in the middle of the action, not even for an extremely simple molecule such as a triatomic molecule, made of only three atoms. Professor Ihee's group and their international collaborators finally succeeded in capturing the ongoing reaction process of the chemical bond formation in the gold trimer. "The femtosecond-resolution images revealed that such molecular events took place in two separate stages, not simultaneously as previously assumed," says Professor Ihee, the corresponding author of the study. "The atoms in the gold trimer complex atoms remain in motion even after the chemical bonding is complete. The distance between the atoms increased and decreased periodically, exhibiting the molecular vibration. These visualized molecular vibrations allowed us to name the characteristic motion of each observed vibrational mode." adds Professor Ihee. Atoms move extremely fast at a scale of femtosecond (fs) ― quadrillionths (or millionths of a billionth) of a second. Its movement is minute in the level of angstrom equal to one ten-billionth of a meter. They are especially elusive during the transition state where reaction intermediates are transitioning from reactants to products in a flash. The KAIST-IBS research team made this experimentally challenging task possible by using femtosecond x-ray liquidography (solution scattering). This experimental technique combines laser photolysis and x-ray scattering techniques. When a laser pulse strikes the sample, X-rays scatter and initiate the chemical bond formation reaction in the gold trimer complex. Femtosecond x-ray pulses obtained from a special light source called an x-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) were used to interrogate the bond-forming process. The experiments were performed at two XFEL facilities (4th generation linear accelerator) that are PAL-XFEL in South Korea and SACLA in Japan, and this study was conducted in collaboration with researchers from KEK IMSS, PAL, RIKEN, and the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute (JASRI). Scattered waves from each atom interfere with each other and thus their x-ray scattering images are characterized by specific travel directions. The KAIST-IBS research team traced real-time positions of the three gold atoms over time by analyzing x-ray scattering images, which are determined by a three-dimensional structure of a molecule. Structural changes in the molecule complex resulted in multiple characteristic scattering images over time. When a molecule is excited by a laser pulse, multiple vibrational quantum states are simultaneously excited. The superposition of several excited vibrational quantum states is called a wave packet. The researchers tracked the wave packet in three-dimensional nuclear coordinates and found that the first half round of chemical bonding was formed within 35 fs after photoexcitation. The second half of the reaction followed within 360 fs to complete the entire reaction dynamics. They also accurately illustrated molecular vibration motions in both temporal- and spatial-wise. This is quite a remarkable feat considering that such an ultrafast speed and a minute length of motion are quite challenging conditions for acquiring precise experimental data. In this study, the KAIST-IBS research team improved upon their 2015 study published by Nature. In the previous study in 2015, the speed of the x-ray camera (time resolution) was limited to 500 fs, and the molecular structure had already changed to be linear with two chemical bonds within 500 fs. In this study, the progress of the bond formation and bent-to-linear structural transformation could be observed in real time, thanks to the improvement time resolution down to 100 fs. Thereby, the asynchronous bond formation mechanism in which two chemical bonds are formed in 35 fs and 360 fs, respectively, and the bent-to-linear transformation completed in 335 fs were visualized. In short, in addition to observing the beginning and end of chemical reactions, they reported every moment of the intermediate, ongoing rearrangement of nuclear configurations with dramatically improved experimental and analytical methods. They will push this method of 'real-time tracking of atomic positions in a molecule and molecular vibration using femtosecond x-ray scattering' to reveal the mechanisms of organic and inorganic catalytic reactions and reactions involving proteins in the human body. "By directly tracking the molecular vibrations and real-time positions of all atoms in a molecule in the middle of reaction, we will be able to uncover mechanisms of various unknown organic and inorganic catalytic reactions and biochemical reactions," notes Dr. Jong Goo Kim, the lead author of the study. Publications: Kim, J. G., et al. (2020) ‘Mapping the emergence of molecular vibrations mediating bond formation’. Nature. Volume 582. Page 520-524. Available online at https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2417-3 Profile: Hyotcherl Ihee, Ph.D. Professor email@example.com http://time.kaist.ac.kr/ Ihee Laboratory Department of Chemistry KAIST https://www.kaist.ac.kr Daejeon 34141, Korea (END)
Nature Photonics, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, released a paper written by a KAIST research team on the time-of-flight measurement.
Professor Seung-Woo Kim of the Mechanical Engineering Department, KAIST, and his research team published the result of their study on the measurement of 1 nanometer (nm) precision. “The time-of-flight of light pulses has long been used as a direct measure of distance, but state-of-the-art measurement precision using conventional light pulses or microwaves peaks at only several hundreds of micrometers. Here, we improve the time-of-flight precision to the nanometer regime by timing femtosecond pulses through phase-locking control of the pulse repetition rate using the optical cross-correlation technique,” Professor Kim said. According to the experiment conducted by the research team, “An Allan deviation of 117 nm in measuring a 700m distance in air at a sampling rate of 5 millisecond (ms) once the pulse repetition is phased-locked, which reduces to 7 nm as the averaging time increases to 1 second (s).” When measuring an object located in a far distance, a laser beam is projected to the object, and the reflected light is analyzed; the light is then converted into an electric signal to calculate the distance. In so doing, Professor Kim said, the conventional method of measurement creates at least 1 mm of deviation. He argues, “This enhanced capability is maintained at long range without periodic ambiguity, and is well suited to lidar applications. This method could also be applied to future space missions involving formation-flying satellites for synthetic aperture imaging and remote experiments related to general relativity theory." Nature Photonics published the article online on August 8, 2010.
Two KAIST Professors Elected Fellows of APS
Profs. Sung-Chul Shin and Chang-Hee Nam of the Department of Physics, KAIST, have recently been elected the 2009 fellows of the American Physical Society (APS), university officials said on Tuesday (Dec. 2). The APS fellowship is a prestigious recognition of the two professors" outstanding academic achievements in the field of physics, the officials said. The selection criteria are known to be extremely stringent and only a small fraction of APS members become fellows. Prof. Shin was cited for his pioneering contributions to the understanding of magnetization reversal dynamics, in particular critical scaling behavior of Barkhausen avalanches of 2D ferromagnets, and discovery of novel magnetic thin films and multilayers for high-density data storage. Prof. Nam was recognized for his contributions to the theory and experiments of physical processes of high harmonic generation for the development of attosecond coherent x-ray sources and related femtosecond laser technology. The American Physical Society, founded in 1899, is the world"s second largest organization of physicists, behind the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft. It has 46,000 members across the world.
New System to Generate Extreme-Ultraviolet Light Developed
A KAIST research team led by Prof. Seung-Woo Kim of the Mechanical Engineering Department developed a new system for generating coherent extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) light, school authorities announced on June 5. The new system comes in a metallic nano-structure consisting of a two-dimensional array of gold "bow tie" elements on a sapphire plate. The new process was featured in the British journal Nature on June 5. The properties of coherent EUV light make it a prime candidate for exciting technological applications. But, at present, the equipment needed to generate the short-wavelength light is costly and bulky. The system developed by Prof. Kim"s research team is expected to reduce both cost and bulk. The new system uses the conventional principle of high-harmonic generation via the interaction of a femtosecond laser pulse with a gas, but adopts the novel concept of amplifying light by way of local plasmon field enhancement, according to the research team.
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