Enzyme discovery may hold key to cancer treatments
Monday 01 September 2008
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 & Style blogs
What is Lyme disease, what are the symptoms and is treatment readily available?
iPhone 7 (or iPhone 6S) leaked pictures show similarities to older model — but Apple is fixing the biggest issue of all
The face of fertility: why do men find women who are near ovulation more attractive?
'Help me I'm trapped in a factory' messages keep being found on bottles of vitamin water
Optical illusion turns blue demon into brunette
- 1 David Cameron refers to 83-year-old Labour MP Dennis Skinner as 'Jurassic Park'
- 2 iPhone 7 (or iPhone 6S) leaked pictures show similarities to older model — but Apple is fixing the biggest issue of all
- 3 'Help me I'm trapped in a factory' messages keep being found on bottles of vitamin water
- 4 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 5 Alwaleed bin Talal: Saudi Prince to donate entire $32bn fortune to charity
£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...
£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...
£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...