Scientists Find a Key That Could Unlock How Cancer Develops

Determining the total number of chromosomes in a human cell could be key to understanding how tumors develop and progress, a team of scientists have postulated. The international team of biologists, which was under the leadership of a Virginia Tech researcher, also added that their findings could help scientists come up with new cancer treatments in the near future.

Their findings were published in the May edition of the life science research journal, eLife.

A healthy human cell is known to have 46 chromosomes. However, mistakes during cell division can lead to cells displaying an unexpected number of chromosomes. This medical condition is referred to as aneuploidy and can result in various cancer-related issues in the human body.

According to Daniela Cimini, a College of Science associate professor in biological sciences, an affiliate of the Fralin Life Science Institute, and a Virginia Bioinformatics Institute biology Fellow, medical scientists have for a long time known that aneuploidy is often associated with tumor cells, but its role in the formation and progression of cancer has never been understood. But the Cimini-led team has now been able to find the link between the presence of extra chromosomes in body cells, the rate of occurrence of cell division errors, and the increase in the frequency of aneuploidy.

Also identified by the team of biologists was a specific cell division defect that results from cells having an extra chromosome 13. Such cells often fail the last stage of cell division, i.e. the final step of separation, resulting in cells that contain double the ideal number of chromosomes. Such cells are unstable and cause the progression of cancer tumors. Aneuploidy could also be a major player in the earlier stages of tumor genesis. The researchers therefore suggest that it becomes a target for potential therapy during cancer treatment and mitigation.

When cells containing extra copies of chromosomes undergo cell division, some of the resultant daughter cells become diverse in their number of chromosomes, a condition referred to as heterogeneity. This could also increase the number of ways in which cancer tumors avoid medical treatments. For instance, a drug that kills up to 99% of cancer cells may not be good enough because the remaining 1% would develop to become heterogeneous again.

Following this milestone, the next step that the scientific team will be embarking on is understanding how specific features of aneuploid cancer cells (including specific chromosomes), as well as environmental conditions, affect cancer growth.


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Adnan Kubi

Adnan Kubi

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