06/01/2016 12:58 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

A Mouse With Fluorescent Proteins Is Teaching Researchers At The Garvan Institute How Cancer Spreads

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BAR HARBOR, ME - AUGUST 28: Research mice, which are genetically modified to allow research on degenerative disorders, such as ALS, in the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, ME on Thursday, August 28, 2014. Luntz's lab provides genetically modified ALS mice to research labs around the world, and also conducts their own ALS research. (Photo by Whitney Hayward/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

A group of fluorescent mice are at the centre of an Australian lab making breakthroughs about the way cancer spreads -- and the world's pharmaceutical labs are keen to get involved.

In a bid to understand one of the most deadly stages of cancer -- metastasis when cancer spreads through the body -- the Garvan Institute of Medical Research cloned mice with one little change -- the molecule that held tumors together was made fluorescent.

Using a very powerful Multiphoton microscope, research leader Paul Timpson said the researchers were then able to watch a tumor 'unzip' as it prepared to spread inside a live mouse which has been nicknamed the 'Biosensor Mouse'.

"As you can imagine, it's as though a zip starts to unwind and the tumor cells start to break apart," Timpson said.

"We can watch what the molecules do in real time and the potential extends beyond cancer.

"This biosensor mouse is a tool for science."

Timpson said pharmaceutical companies were already knocking on the lab door, hoping to use the biosensor mouse to observe how drugs work.

Dr Paul Timpson with one of the microscope images.

"Some companies are interested in using the mouse to test their pipeline drugs," Timpson said.

"They want to try this rather than testing every drug we use in a petri dish, where quite often you can get false positive or false negative; you could miss a great drug or think it’s brilliant but go a level up and won’t work on a human."