It was hard to single out just one example from the 2010 dance your PhD contest but here is Synthetic lethality screen for an anticancer treatment. from Radek Lach (on Vimeo).
Cancer develops when a normal cell acquires mutations. It may happen through mistakes in DNA replication and repair or through exposure to substances that causes DNA mutations called mutagens.
Most of the current anti-cancer therapeutics [as represented by dancers in wigs of various colours] are classified as cytotoxic agents. However, the effect of this treatment is not ideal because many cancers show resistance to this kind of therapy. Some cells are prone to develop specific resistance to these therapeutics [as represented by dancers who put on helmets signifying resistance]. In addition to this complication, these drugs do not distinguish between cancerous and healthy cells. Therefore normal cells [represented by dancer without helmet] are damaged in this process.
The concept of synthetic lethal interaction is that mutation in either of the two genes [as represented by the scarf and gloves] has no effect on the viability of cell but depletion or inhibition of both genes results in cell death.
The aim of my project is to screen for drugs that can mimic the synthetic lethal effect. A number of cells with mutations recapitulating the ones observed in cancers are generated and screened against a library of compounds [dancers with wigs].
Usually genes are not mutated in healthy cells [as represented by the dancer with the scarf and gloves intact]. But in a cancer cell, mutagen [dancer in hoodie and glasses] can inactivate one of the synthetic lethal genes [gloves]. Therefore the synthetic lethal drug [dancer in white wig] is harmless to healthy cells as it inhibits only one of the synthetic lethal genes [scarf]. The synthetic drug [dancer in white wig] eliminates the affected cells [dancer deprived of gloves] by inhibition of the synthetic lethal gene [scarf] of the cell.
The discovery of such compounds, together with improved diagnostics and understanding of cancer genetics [ as illustrated by the magnifying glass] would enable selective elimination of cancerous cells and thus promises a future for personalised cancer treatment.