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How could designer proteins thwart cancer?

Specialized proteins could help fight cancer.

Chromosomes, or DNA molecules found in cells carrying genetic material, are “bookended” by telomeres, which will prevent them from “unraveling.” Telomeres are also important in the growth and aging process of cells, but what happens when cancer “hijacks” them, and can this be prevented?

“A normal cell grows for just the right amount of time that is required for us to develop and maintain our bodies,” explains associate professor Oliver Rackham, of the University of Western Australia in Crawley.

Certain molecular mechanisms are in place in cells that “tell” them how much to grow and when it’s time to stop growing.

One such mechanism involves telomeres, which are the “caps” at the ends of chromosomes. Chromosomes carry genetic information.

Telomeres are “attached” to the single strands of DNA that are left “hanging” at the endings, or termini, of chromosomes, securing them, as it were.

“[Cells] control their growth with a molecular counting mechanism that tells the cell how old it is. This occurs on the ends of our chromosomes which have little caps on them,” Rackham says.

“Each time the cell divides,” he goes on, “a little bit at the cap of the chromosome disappears. Once the caps shrink to a certain length the cell knows that it has divided too many times and it will then stop growing or die.”

Read on: How could designer proteins thwart cancer?

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