Ultrasound can ‘see’ when tumor cells turn genes on and off – A Spiritual Insight


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Ultrasound is the use of sound waves with frequencies higher than the upper audible limit of human hearing. Ultrasound is not different from “normal” (audible) sound in its physical properties, the only difference being that humans cannot hear it. Ultrasound devices operate with frequencies from 20 kHz up to several gigahertz. The applications for ultrasound are used in many different fields. Ultrasonic devices are used to detect objects and measure distances. I have also observed researchers from the US Navy visit where I work and install ultrasonic devices to study multiphased flows and mixing of solids in stirred pulse jet mixed reactors (Chemical Engineering related stuffs). Ultrasound scans (sonography) used in the medical field are safe because they use sound waves or echoes to make an image, instead of radiation. Ultrasound scans are used to evaluate fetal development, and they can detect problems in the liver, heart, kidney, or abdomen. They may also assist in performing certain types of biopsy. Recent research has shown that ultrasound can also gauge whether certain genes are being turned on in animals. This ability to use a simple and safe probe to monitor the switching of genes on and off could one day help researchers understand everything from tumor growth to the function of nerve cells. [1]


  1. Arash Farhadi, Gabrielle H. Ho2, Daniel P. Sawyer, Raymond W. Bourdeau, Mikhail G. Shapiro, Ultrasound imaging of gene expression in mammalian cells, Science 2019, Vol. 365, Issue 6460, pp. 1469-1475, DOI: 10.1126/science.aax4804

The study of cell biology teaches us that cells are continually turning genes on and off. In order to probe gene function, activity, and expression in cells, researchers genetically modify cells to turn on specific genes. The difficulty is actually physically observing whether the genetic modifications are doing what is intended in the gene expression. Researchers have used techniques to probe gene expression, such as using modifications that also produce glowing proteins (i.e. green fluorescent protein GFP). The experimental difficulty using the GFP ( the glowing protein technique) is that light does not travel far in the body and therefore it is difficult to track gene activity inside of tissues and organs. The ultrasound technique suffers from a sensitivity and resolution problem because genes and cells are very small, too small in fact for visualizing the gene expression. Because of this limitation, researchers must couple other techniques in order to use ultrasound for visualizing the gene expression. This is accomplished by a technique that relies upon microbubble contrast agents (MCAs) which selectively adhere to specific target sites that exhibit the gene expression. The researcher’s method of microbubbles to enhance contrast sensitivity to low concentrations of microbubbles is essential for improving molecular imaging techniques. This is exactly what the researchers did in the imaging of gene expression in mammalian cells. [1] In this study, the researchers used aquatic bacterial that manufacture air bubbles which are capable of reflecting sound ways so they may be detected. When a gene expression occurs, the bacteria agglomerates at that site location, and the bubbles boost the number of sound waves that bounce back to the ultrasound device, making the host cells detectable. The paper describes how the researchers inserted 11 genes to produce the gas-filled spheres into bacteria and injected the modified microbes into the intestines of mice. Using this technique with an ultrasound probe, the scientists could pinpoint clusters of bacteria in the animals’ intestines. This technique was then transferred to mammalian cells, but this was a little trickier to do as compared to the gut bacteria. The bacterial genes that produced the bubbles in the intestinal tract, functioned differently in mammalian cells. Due to the differences in cell function, the researchers found a workaround by coupling several bacterial genes together with a protein from a virus, they were able to cause mammalian cells to turn on the genes they wanted to turn on. For example, 9 bacterial genes are capable of producing gas spheres in human kidney cells in a dish. The data that was published in the Journal Science included a control group that was not modified which compared to the group that was modified illuminated under ultrasonic perturbation (i.e. the cells showed up on the sensor due to agglomeration of bubbles and resulting ultrasonic reflection enhancement effect).

The final test on whether this technique worked was to alter human kidney cells and then inject them into mice and see if they are detectable? The idea was to take the cells out of the dish and put them into a living body to test the viability of the technique and whether it is observable inside of a larger mass of tissues. Adding these cells to the mice result in tumors in mice, and so the ultrasound technique was used to visualize the tumors. When the researchers visualized the tumors with GFP, they appeared as green blobs. This ultrasound technique show only the cells with the gene expression, and the tumors that were formed, the cells showing up was only on the rim of the cell. This is an interesting way to visualize gene expression in cells, and to study tumor formation. This research was published in the Journal Science. [1] The final conclusions on this research was to make this technique more widely useful, i.e. the current genetic engineering approach is very complex, and so the next step is to simplify the gene modifying technique making the study of these things a lot more easier.

The Spiritual insights that we receive from this type of research are related to the ability to probe this phenomenon. In our relationship with God, we are given His Holy Spirit for the purpose of being able to probe (to observe) the phenomenon of truth, deception, sin, and righteousness in our lives. The Lord God Almighty actually gives us a way to understand and observe this phenomenon in our lives, a powerful tool that leads us towards repentance.  From the Torah based perspective (i.e. the God of Israel who dwells in our midst) the Lord God of Israel dwells in our hearts, inside of us, by His Holy Spirit. So the question is, “What is the Holy Spirit?” The Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) is the Name for Adonai (Lord) in the Tanach. Both the Tanach and the Apostolic Writings describe the Ruach HaKodesh as the Spirit of the living God! According to the Scriptures, the Spirit of God is the Helper and Comforter (John 14:26, 15:26), He is the Eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14), He is Holy (this occurs more than 90 times in the NT, study this using a bible search program! i.e. Luke 3:16, 11:13, Ephesians 1:13, 4:30, 1 Thessalonians 4:8, Titus 3:5, 1 Corinthians 6:9, Jude 1:20), He is the Holy Spirit of Promise (Ephesians 1:13), the Spirit of Adonai (Acts 5:9), the Spirit of God (Matthew 3:16, 12:28, Romans 8:9, 14, 15:19, 1 Corinthians 2:11, 14, 3:16, 7:40, 12:3, Ephesians 4:30, 1 John 4:2), the Spirit of Revelation (Ephesians 1:17), the Spirit of the Living God (2 Corinthians 3:3), the Spirit of the Lord God (Luke 4:18, Isaiah 61:1), the Spirit of the Messiah (Romans 8:9), the Spirit of Truth (John 15:6), the Spirit of Wisdom (Ephesians 1:17), the Spirit of Yeshua (Acts 16:7), the Spirit of Yeshua our Messiah (Philipians 1:19), the Spirit of Adonai, the breath of the Lord (Acts 5:9), and just as the Spirit (Acts 2:4, Romans 8:1, 1 Corinthians 2:4-10, 2:11-12, 2 Corinthians 1:22, 3:6, Galatians 3:2). Note that the NT was written in Greek, and to see the Hebrew rendition of these references one may use Salkinson-Ginsburgh Hebrew NT and/or Delitzsch Hebrew NT for comparisons to the Tanach.  I recommend taking the Hebrew translation of the NT to compare studies in the Torah.

The significance of these things is that the Spirit of the Lord is the Spirit of God Himself! The Spirit of the Lord works in powerful ways throughout the Scriptures. The Spirit of the Lord is the creative one according to Bereshit / Genesis 1:2 (as the Spirit of Elohim that hovered over the surface of the waters and Midrash Rabbah states this is the spirit of Mashiach).  The Spirit of God is also the all knowing One (Isaiah states in 40:13 Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, Or as His counselor has informed Him? NASB) The Spirit of the Lord works in our redemption (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26-27), and He is central to upholding and guiding his chosen ones. (Nehemiah 9:20, Tehillim / Psalms 143:10, Haggai 2:5). The Spirit of the Lord is also the one who empowers the Messiah (see Isaiah 11:2, 42:1, 61:1). It is because of these things that we have the middot halev (qualities of the heart) that are the earmark of the follower of Yeshua the Messiah. Paul wrote, “the fruit of the Spirit (פְּרִי הָרוּחַ) is love, joy, peace; long-suffering, generosity, acts of kindness; faithfulness, humility, and modesty – against such there is no Torah” (Galatians 5:22-23). Notice something here, when the Lord causes us to have one of the fruits of the spirit, the Lord then produces a multitude. Love (אַהֲבָה), Joy (שִׂמְחָה), Peace (שָׁלוֹם), Long suffering (ארֶךְ אַפַּיִם), Generosity (נְדִיבוּת), Goodness (גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים), Faithfulness (נֶאֱמָנוּת), Humility (עֲנָוָה), Modesty (צְנִיעוּת), when God’s Spirit dwells within He produces these things in our lives, against such great gifts, the Torah has nothing to say against. As we see according to the Scientific research using ultrasound and bubbles as a probe for gene expression, so too the Holy Spirit is given into our lives to help us to understand the differences between worldly practices as opposed to Godly practices. Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted” (1 Timothy 1:9-11). Paul’s use of the phrase, κατὰ τῶν τοιούτων οὐκ ἔστιν νόμος, “against such there is no law,” are meant to be rhetorical speaking of the end goal of the Torah, to demonstrate the great of God has for His people. The power of God in our lives creates a different order of reality entirely!  Our lives change, we see the world differently, seeing into this world and being given understanding to recognize the spiritual forces that are at work behind the scenes. The Spirit that is given creates an identity as a child of God, where Yeshua said that “without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) suggesting that our strength comes from the spiritual vine in which we are grafted into. This is why Paul wrote what he did saying,“For I through the law to the law have died; that to God I will live (᾽Εγὼ γὰρ διὰ νόμου νόμῳ ἀπέθανον, ἵνα θεῷ ζήσω) I have been crucified with the Messiah: It is no longer I who live, but Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness came through the law, then the Messiah died for no purpose” (Galatians. 2:19-21). Paul isn’t taking a negative view of the Torah. He is saying that it is only by the power of God that we are able to live according to His Torah. Note the connections to the Spirit and the Messiah we had shown previously from the Scriptures, and even the rabbinic texts (Bereshit / Genesis 1:2, Midrash Rabbah). He says the life that he now lives is a life that is coupled to Yeshua because of the indwelling Spirit of God that is by faith, and specifically faith in the Son of God (Yeshua) who gave himself for us. When we consider the place of residence of God’s Spirit, the heart, all life flows from the heart, both physically and spiritually. Note how the heart is that thing which sustains life, on both a physical and spiritual level, and so it is vital that we attend to the needs of the heart, both physically and spiritually, in order to be healthy people. All of these things speak to us about the importance of the Spirit of God in our lives, for the purpose of renewal, faithfulness, and life. The weightiness of these things speak to the necessity of being made new, turning from idolatry, and seeking the Lord and that sanctuary that God establishes in our lives (in our hearts, see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

The weightiness of these things of the necessity of being made new, of turning from idolatry, seeking the Lord, the Lord living in and through us by His Spirit, all of these things speak of resurrection and are connected to this idea that the Lord God has set up His sanctuary in the land (Torah based perspective, in our hearts/Land). The midrash Petichta Rabbah to Lamentations 22 speaks of something that is very important for us to understand asking the question, “How long (did they relentlessly introduce more and more idolatry)? Until they introduced idolatry into the Sanctuary itself.” The Midrash refers to a verse in Jeremiah 11:6 in which the proliferation of idolatry in the towns of Judah are described and the word חוצות describes the innermost part of Jerusalem. It adds a verse from Ezekiel 8:5 describing penetration by idolatry of the Sanctuary itself as the ultimate act of rebellion against the Lord. (Rabbeinu Bahya, Devarim / Deuteronomy 31:16 Part 4) Note how there is a danger even today of idolatry entering into the inner sanctuary of our hearts as the people of God, polluting the place of residence of the Spirit of God.  Ezekiel 8:5 describes an idol standing at the entrance of the North gate of the temple. The Lord speaks to Ezekiel about the abominations the people of Israel are committing which caused to drive the presence of God from the sanctuary. This is a very important concept as we learn from the Apostle Paul that the sanctuary of God is in our hearts, where His presence dwells by the Holy Spirit. David refers to the areas described as חוצות as אהלי רשע, “the tents of the wicked.” (Tehillim / Psalms 84:11) The whole verse there reads, “Better one day in Your courts than a thousand anywhere else; I would rather stand on the threshold of God’s House than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” This speaks to us today about turning from unrighteousness and turning towards the presence of God in our lives. When compared to Jerusalem, the city of righteousness, the Lord is looking for us to walk in His ways, to seek His face, and to bear His testimonies. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 Paul speaks to those who do not consider the spiritual consequences of their actions, in fact, they do not seem to have a desire to seek the Lord and His ways based upon what he is saying, they are infants knowing only of Yeshua the Messiah but not remaining “in” him because they continue to walk in their sinful ways. He goes on to say, 1 Corinthians 3:16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 3:17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (NIV) We read something very interesting in the Zohar concerning these things.

Zohar Volume 2 Noach 7 “And Elohim looked on the earth”
7.40 But the people corrupt their ways, do not observe the commandments of the Torah, and sin before its Master, then it is as if they drive the Shechinah out of the world. Then the earth is left corrupt, for the Shechinah is repelled by it and does not dwell on it. Then the earth is corrupt. And why should the earth be corrupt? Because a different spirit rests upon it, causing the corruption.

This parallels to the one who has been transformed from the inside out with the presence of the Lord within (by His Spirit). The point being drawn out in the Zohar is wickedness, corruption, sin, drives the presence of God (His Shechinah) from the earth. Because of the corruption of sin, a different spirit rests upon the earth causing its continuing in its corrupt ways. So the idea being put forward here is the danger of unrepentant sin can lead to driving the Spirit of God from our hearts.  When we enter into a covenant relationship with God, we are to walk in His righteous ways, and seek God’s help to do so by the transformation from within and by His presence in our lives. If we choose to disregard God’s word, to neglect our sins, live unrepentant lives, this will drive the presence of God from our lives. These things are a warning to us, and Paul taught something very similar to the Corinthians in relation to the temple of God in our hearts, the Lord will destroy those who destroy his sanctuary (referring to the heart). Paul spoke of the power of the resurrection in his life (Philippians 3:10-11). Knowing the power of the resurrection of Yeshua to overcome sin is what all of these things are speaking about and what is being drawn out by this research into ultrasonic observation of gene expression. God’s Spirit that is given to us is a powerful tool to know when we have sinned, which leads us to repentance.  Each day ask if the Lord is working in your life in a tangible way? Do you see His work? Can you observe His influence in your live daily? This is what the Torah teaches us, a loving God desires to dwell in our midst, and calls us to a practical faith seeing the power of God in our lives each day!