September 2, 2008

Study May Lead to Cancer, Aging Therapies

U.S. scientists say they've deciphered the structure of telomerase -- an enzyme that plays a major role in the development of nearly all human cancers.

Researchers at The Wistar Institute said their achievement opens the door to the creation of new, broadly effective cancer drugs, as well as anti-aging therapies.

The new findings should help researchers design effective telomerase inhibitors, said Assistant Professor Emmanuel Skordalakes, who led the study.

"Telomerase is an ideal target for chemotherapy because it is active in almost all human tumors, but inactive in most normal cells," Skordalakes said. "That means a drug that deactivates telomerase would likely work against all cancers, with few side effects."

The study provides the first full-length view of the telomerase molecule's critical protein component, revealing "surprising details, at the atomic level, of the enzyme's configuration and how it works to replicate the ends of chromosomes -- a process critical to both tumor development and the aging process," the scientists said.

The study is reported in the online edition of the journal Nature.