Our cells are dividing all the time – replacing worn-out cells and healing injuries. But cell division can be a tricky business – every time a cell divides, each one of its 46 chromosomes, and the DNA they are made of, must be copied perfectly. Time and time again the cells in our bodies divide without a single hitch, largely due to the many checks and balances that are in place to prevent problems.
Telomeres – miniscule structures that cap and protect the ends of each of a cell’s chromosomes– are one such safety check. Each time a cell divides the telomeres get a little bit shorter, limiting the cell’s natural lifespan and preventing runaway cell division – the hallmark of cancer.
Now new research published today in the journal Blood reveals how cells that bypass this safety check might be able to trigger the development of leukaemia, and potentially many other types of cancer. The researchers believe it could one day lead to a blood test to predict how fast leukaemia will progress.
Listen to lead researcher Dr Duncan Baird talking about his discovery: