Telomerase-Inhibition May Change Cancer Treatment

Genetically determined telomere length may not influence mortality.

Genetically determined telomere length may not influence mortality.

A new discovery may completely alter the principals of cancer treatment, a recent study indicated.

For the study, researchers from the University of Copenhagen examined the link between cancer mortality and the ends of human chromosomes called telomeres. Prior research had found that short telomeres are associated with unhealthy lifestyles and old age, which are mortality risk factors.

Research has been ongoing to determine if short telomeres are a signifier or an indirect cause of the increased mortality. The current telomere study, which included 64,000 subjects, concluded that genetically determined telomere length does not influence mortality in general.

People with genetically long telomeres, however, have an increased risk of cancer death. This finding was the complete opposite of what the researchers expected and may subsequently influence future cancer therapy.

"People have long telomeres because their cells are very apt at maintaining and repairing them,” said co-study lead Stig Bojesen, professor at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, in a press release. “The disadvantage is that cancer cells are also very apt at maintaining and repairing their telomeres, which then prohibits the growth-inhibition that short telomeres would normally induce. If you are able to specifically target this repair process, in principle, you are then better able to stop cancer.”

The process, called telomerase-inhibition, has been evaluated as a potential treatment for cancer for more than a decade.

"So far, the method has not managed to fulfil the great expectations initially entertained,” Bojesen said. “However, our discovery highlights that the principle of telomerase-inhibition should be afforded an important place in cancer treatment. The next challenge will be trying to locate more precisely, which cancer patients may benefit the most from such treatment.”