[Ed. Note: Dr. KSS writes about medicine and biotech stocks for the Irregulars. His words and opinions are his own, and he has agreed to our trading restrictions.]
Want to see something really cool? A hot video clip from a steamy biotech thriller? Watch this. Better yet, when you pull up the video viewing frame, go to the cogwheel icon in the lower right corner, click on it, and adjust the video speed to slow-mo.
This is some of the best footage you’ll ever come across of cells dying. But they are not casually dying. They are not undergoing necrosis: they are not old, and neither are they injured. The footage is time-lapse, one in which the camera was not recording continuously but grabbing frames at intervals, perhaps every five seconds. Some molecular trigger has horse-whispered to the cells: “For the good of the greater organism, you must now die. Please despatch yourself.” The molecular trigger is not some poison, not some toxin that would kill any cell. It’s probably a protein that knows how to speak in tongues or give a password to the targeted cells, one that means, “You are non-negotiably ordered to commit suicide now.”
The video is of cells dying by normal apoptosis, and while the footage is sped up somewhat, the overall sense you get from it is not misleading. Compared with necrosis, which can drag into hours, apoptosis is quick…mere minutes. Notice anything else? There is a Dutch-maid tidiness about apoptosis. A necrotic cell, one dying unwillingly, will balloon and swell and degenerate and spew contents everywhere. With apoptosis however, things trash-compact themselves into a wee cluster of vesicle-like blebs, to be snarfed up shortly by macrophage “clean-up” cells. Apoptosis has OCD, and leaves things spic-‘n’-span. If cell necrosis is about cells barfing and diarrheally giving up their enzymes, DNA, RNA and ions in ugly ways that can make the host organism toxic, apoptosis is a commando raid of bloodless stealth.
Apoptosis (people once quarrelled about its “correct” pronunciation, with many physicians pseudointellectualizing that it should be pronounced with a nod to “ptosis,” a clinical term with a silent p. Pronounce it aah-pop-TO-sis.) has been known about for several decades (see this fine full-text paper from 1972) but has only made its way into the consciousness of clinical relevance in the last 15 years. ...
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