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Name: David H Khaliqi
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Question:
I am studying to be a teacher and have recently read about the research on telomeres and their effect on inhibition of cell division by "wearing" off, thereby stopping the cell's division. My question refers to the possibility of inhibiting the telomerase enzyme in cancer cells. If this is done (kill telomerase) what will be the effect on surrounding normal cells. In short, if telomerase is inhibited, wouldn't this kill normal cells by stopping their ability to divide?



Replies:
This is hot stuff you're into. Telomeres are indeed the structures at the ends of the (linear) DNA molecules in our chromosomes. They consist of long stretches of "meaningless" information. The machinery that copies DNA (the replication machinery) has a hard time with ends of linear molecules; the ends get shorter with each cycle of copying. For most cells, that's really OK; the cells will divide only for a limited number of times in the life of the organism, and the cell can tolerate the loss of lots of that "meaningless" telomere DNA. Tumor cells, however, want to keep dividing indefinitely; they have somehow found a way to turn on the telomerase enzyme (which in most cells is NOT turned on!). So, by inhibiting the telomerase enzyme, the chromosome ends in the tumor cells will get too short and the cells will die. Cells which do not replicate much will not suffer the shortening, and they will not be affected. You may be able to predict some side effects of such a drug; might affect cells that DO divide frequently (e.g., bone marrow) or cells that pass information on to the next generation (eggs, sperm) where protecting the information is the highest priority. Write back if you want more! I love this stuff.

Steve Triezenberg



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