mTOR is a specific type of enzyme (kinase), that is key in the regulation of metabolism and physiology. This enzyme plays an important role in the function of multiple tissues. Scientists have shown that increasing mTOR activity results in increased cell creation and growth, which technically supports tumour growth indirectly. This, combined with medical data, has led to conclusions that when mTOR's activity is increased, it can result in diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers (lung, bladder, brain, etc.).
Experiments done outside of the CLF on inhibiting mTOR in mice also appears to result in life-span extension. However, inhibiting mTOR in this way appears to result in the body's immune system being suppressed. Dietary regimes (like caloric restriction) have been hypothesized as a more natural way of decreasing mTOR activity in the body for similar lifespan extension effects without the immunocompromising effect. However, fundamental research is still needed to unravel the complexities of mTOR and its role in cancer and aging in our bodies.
Professor Botchway is using the OCTOPUS advanced imaging techniques, in particular lifetime confocal, to understand how other key proteins around the mTOR interact with it in live cells. Since proteins do not work in isolation, it is vital to understand how they 'communicate'. This communication happens when they are in physical contact. This is generally difficult to observe in live active cells. However, the techniques available within OCTOPUS allow us to observe these protein-protein interaction processes. The research aims to observe what areas in the cell (organelles) are critically involved in the mTOR signalling pathway. Drugs and other chemicals can then be targeted more specifically to affect the mTOR function.
For more information, check out a related publication: Directly imaging the localisation and photosensitization properties of the pan-mTOR inhibitor, AZD2014, in living cancer cells.