Cell Biology Research Unit
Fluorescent microscope image of Tetrahymena thermophila cells mating; they are in meiosis prophase I of their cycle.
The Cell Biology Unit, like the Cancer Research Unit, is interested in investigating the ability of cancer cells to divide indefinitely. Our focus is on understanding the role of the enzyme telomerase in this process.
Telomeres are the protective DNA caps on the ends of chromosomes. In most normal human cells telomeres get slightly shorter with every cell division. The shortening telomeres act like a ‘molecular clock’ that eventually prevents cells from dividing any further. Telomere shortening not only contributes to ageing, but also prevents normal cells from becoming cancerous.
The majority of human tumour cells overcome telomere shortening by activating the telomerase enzyme that adds more DNA to the ends of chromosomes. Telomerase is not detected in most normal cells. This raises the exciting possibility that drugs that inhibit telomerase will be a very specific and non-toxic treatment for cancer.
Before we can reach this point, however, we need to learn more about how telomerase functions. This is the focus of our current work.
For more information see the staff profiles and projects pages.