Enzyme discovery may hold key to cancer treatments

A major discovery could open the door to "one-fits-all" cancer drugs that can tackle many different forms of the disease.









Researchers have started to unmask an enzyme that plays a major role in the development of nearly all human cancers.



The work may lead to drugs that de-activate the enzyme, and prevent the uncontrolled cell division that leads to cancer.



Experts have been trying for more than a decade to devise anti-cancer therapies that target the enzyme, telomerase. But they have been thwarted by lack of knowledge about the molecule's construction.



Researchers have now deciphered the enzyme's active region and worked out the most important part of its structure.



The new findings, published in the online edition of the journal Nature, reveal atomic-level details of telomerase showing how it works to replicate the ends of chromosomes - a process critical both to tumour development and ageing.



The results are expected to boost development of telomerase inhibitors.



Study leader Dr Emmanuel Skordalakes, from The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, US, said: "Telomerase is an ideal target for chemotherapy because it is active in almost all human tumours, but inactive in most normal cells. That means a drug that deactivates telomerase would likely work against all cancers, with few side effects."



Telomerase helps prevent the chromosomes - bundles of DNA which contain the genes - suffering damage and the loss of genetic information during cell division.



The enzyme adds protective "caps" known as "telomeres" to the ends of chromosomes which act like the plastic tips on shoe laces that prevent fraying.



When telomerase is dormant, the telomeres shorten each time a cell divides, eventually leading to genetic instability and cell death. This is a key element of the ageing process.



The enzyme is active in cells that multiple frequently, such as immature cells in embryos, but switched off almost completely in normal adult cells.



However cancer cells often regain the ability to activate telomerase, allowing them to replicate indefinitely, and the enzyme has been implicated in 90 per cent of human tumours.



For this reason deactivating telomerase could halt tumour growth.



Unravelling the mysteries of telomerase may also pave the way to therapies that combat ageing and age-related diseases.



Re-activating dormant telomerase in a controlled, safe way, could theoretically produce younger, healthier and longer living tissue.



Understanding telomerase's structure is the first step towards achieving these goals.



But the molecule is complex, made up of multiple protein domains - three dimensional structures that can function independently of each other - as well as a stretch of the genetic "template" RNA.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

    Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Receptionist

    £14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss