OMRF scientists have made a discovery that could play a key role in understanding how cancer develops. The work, led by OMRF scientist Gary Gorbsky, Ph.D., could ultimately lead to new insights into stopping the disease.
While normal human cells have 23 pairs of chromosomes—long chains of genes that make up DNA—cancerous cells often have too many, too few or fused chromosomes. In a new research study published in the journal Current Biology, Gorbsky has identified a mechanism that could be an important source of chromosomal abnormalities.
“Before cells divide, the chromosomes make copies of themselves. When it comes time to divide they line up like two rows of runners facing in opposite directions,” said Gorbsky, who holds the W.H. and Betty Phelps Chair in Developmental Biology at OMRF. “When the start signal is given, the chromosomes separate simultaneously and race toward opposite ends of the cell.”
But if something is wrong with the biochemical signals that make up the “starter’s gun,” the chromosomal copies will start randomly at different times resulting in massive chromosome abnormalities. In cells with the wrong number of chromosomes or with broken chromosomes, the biochemical signals regulating normal growth become scrambled.
“We think that identifying this mechanism for causing chromosome abnormalities will help us further understand how a cell becomes cancerous,” Gorbsky said. “If we can predict which cells have defects in their starter’s gun for chromosome separation, we might also be able to target them and interfere with the process by which cells become malignant.”
The next steps in the research are to understand the mechanism that causes the chromosomes to separate at different times and follow up on the consequences of the defects it causes. This work, said Gorbsky, could help researchers develop strategies to prevent cancer cells from forming.
Members of Gorbsky’s lab who contributed to the research were John Daum, Tamara Potapova, Ph.D., Sushama Sivakumar and Jennifer Flynn.
The research was funded through grants from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the McCasland Foundation.