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In a dark lab, a sedated mouse laid face down on the counter, its backside bald where lab members had shaven clean a patch. Then, in the middle of the bald spot, its rump began to glow, washing its hindquarters in pale blue light. In the dim room, it lit up like a firefly in the night. “The postdocs started jumping around,” said Yun Huang, a cancer biologist at Texas A&M University. “It was like magic.”

Huang and colleagues are hoping that tiny glowing spot could one day lead to a breakthrough that will advance one of the most promising cancer treatments on the market, CAR-T cell therapy. Theirs is a new version of the CAR-T cell, a modified immune cell that’s been engineered and juiced up to fight cancer tumors. Called LiCAR-T cells, these new CAR-T cells only activate in the presence of blue light, which scientists can use to paint a target onto tumors — and they hope this can make the therapy safer and more effective.

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