Dr Miriam Stoppard discusses how researchers are working to discover how cancer is former and therefore through understanding this risk more effective ways to prevent cancer can be developed
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Honestly, medical research gets more and more amazing.
A bit of background first. When a cell divides, it makes a copy of every chromosome and then shares them equally between the two new cells.
This process is carried out by a machine in the cell called the mitotic spindle.
But when a cell divides abnormally, it doesn’t share the correct number of chromosomes between the two new cells, and this can be the first step to a cancer forming.
New research from Warwick Medical School has discovered how and why this happens, using cell surgery.
This advances our understanding of the origin of cancer and could lead to its prevention.
When something goes wrong at the cell-division stage, the two new cells will be aneuploid, meaning they won’t have the correct number of chromosomes.
This means they will make mistakes when they share genetic information.
Cancer cells are aneuploid too, so understanding how and why this happens is hugely significant in finding out how the disease originates.
Professor Stephen Royle’s research team at Warwick has identified exactly this with their research.
They have found that some chromosomes can get trapped and lost in a tangle of membranes around the cell’s spindle, preventing the chromosomes from being shared properly, leading to the abnormal cell division that can cause cancer.
They made their discovery by performing a sort of surgery on living cells.
The researchers brilliantly invented a way to remove the tangle of membranes in which chromosomes get trapped and, as a result, the chromosomes were rescued by the spindle, thus enabling normal healthy cell division.
This proved, for the first time, that chromosomes getting caught in these membranes is a direct risk factor for the formation of cancerous cells.
Understanding this risk can lead to more effective cancer prevention.
Prof Royle said: “Many scientists working on cell division focus on the spindle – how it works and why it makes mistakes in cancer. In this paper we shifted the spotlight and looked at membranes inside dividing cells.”
Dr Nuria Ferrandiz, lead author, said: “We found that chromosomes can get trapped in membranes and this is a disaster for the dividing cell. It has the potential to change a normal cell into a cancer cell. Preventing this may be a way to treat disease.”
This is a major step forward in treating cancer.