Telomere breakdown has been long linked with aging, however a study now shows the link between this breakdown and the development of cancer.
The University of Utah describes telomeres as stretches of DNA that protect our genetic data, they are present on the tips of chromosomes. They can be compared to the plastic tips on shoelaces, they prevent fraying and scrambling of DNA.
Their association with aging is caused by the gradual shortening of these telomeres over time with cell division. After the telomere becomes too short the cell goes into the death phase, it becomes inactive and then dies.
This process can also be linked with cancer. In the study “Presence of alternative lengthening of telomeres associated circular extra-chromosome telomere repeats in primary leukemia cells of chronic myeloid leukemia” scientists analyzed the small percentage of cells who survived the death phase.
Scientists found that those cells who survived and continued to replicate now had active telomerase, which is an RNA-dependent DNA polymerase. This is an alternative lengthening of telomeres.
This alternative way of lengthening telomeres uses homologous recombination, which results in cellular abnormalities. These abnormalities are considered ‘hallmarks’ of activation pathways for leukemia cell bodies.
The results of this study will significantly impact the development of anti-telomerase chemotherapies in the future. This provides a new angle an attacking cancer and possibly a better, more effective treatment.