Researchers have found that lung cancer cells are resistant to death by protecting the ends of their chromosomes against age-related damage. These results bring hope for new cancer treatments.
Scientists at the Hollings Cancer Center (Medical University of South Carolina) have discovered that lung cancer cells are resistant to death by controlling part of the aging process. These results, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, bring hope for new cancer treatments.
For a long time, scientists have noticed that cancer cells, contrary to normal cells, seem to live longer as people get older without knowing exactly why. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that by 2040, only 18% of cancer survivors will be between the ages of 50 and 64, and 8% will be under 50 years of age. At the Hollings Cancer Center, biochemist Besim Ogretmen’s team discovered that cancer cells are resistant to death by protecting the ends of their chromosomes against age-related damage.
When normal cells age, the ends of their chromosomes, called telomeres, begin to break down, indicating that the cell will soon die. In contrast, cancer cells have developed a way to prevent their telomeres from deteriorating, which helps them to live much longer than normal cells. Their unusually long life allows them to grow and spread throughout the body.
“Telomeres are the biological clock for our cells,” explains Besim Ogretmen. “In cancer, this biological clock is broken and we have discovered that it is the P16 protein that decides whether cells should age or die. The more cells contain P16, the less they die. Therefore, can we prevent or better treat aging-related cancers by controlling the protective effects of p16 in the death of cancer cells?” wonders Besim Ogretmen. To answer this question, his team is planning a Phase 2 clinical trial.
Cancer is unfortunately one of the leading causes of death in the world. In 2018, about 1,735,350 people will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States and 609,640 will die. The average mortality rate is twice as high for men as for women: the rates are 196.8 deaths per 100,000 men and 139.6 deaths per 100,000 women respectively. In addition, cancer is the leading cause of premature death before age 65 in both men and women, accounting for 38% of all male deaths and 47% of female deaths, respectively.