Telomerase And Cancer

I'll try to explain a bit about telomerase, as quite a few people ask me about it as a new treatment strategy in human cancer.

A fundamental difference in the behavior of normal versus tumor cells in culture is that normal cells divide for a limited number of times whereas tumor cells usually have the ability to proliferate indefinitely - they are immortal.

Telomerase is a protein involved in cancer where it is present in 85 to 90% of all cases. Taking advantage of this fact, over the last years multiple new approaches have appeared that aim to inhibit telomerase activity.

However, in an older issue of the journal Oncogene1 scientists revealed that in some types of cancers anti-telomerase therapy, instead of killing cancerous cells puts them into a physiological state where cells although unable to divide and consequently grow, are nevertheless metabolically active.

But in spite of some negative aspects, telomerase raises multiple possibilities for the development of new anti-cancer drugs based on the discovery of this enzyme in the 1980s. This is because anti-telomerase therapies also seem to have much fewer adverse side effects than more traditional treatments such as chemo- or radio-therapy. Thus anti-cancer therapies based on telomerase inhibition is now considered an area of great promise in medicine.

1 Oncogene23, 4136 - 4145 (20 May 2004)