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Pinpointing and Killing Cancer Cells

Posted April. 03, 2005 23:58,   


A Korean research team has developed a way to selectively age and kill cancer cells for the first time in the world.

The team led by Yonsei University biology professors Cheong In-gwon (47) and Lee Tae-ho (49) announced on April 3, saying, “We are the first to confirm the fact that cancer cells stop growing and start aging and eventually die when the gene ‘MKRN1’ is injected into them.”

“MKRN1” was discovered a few years ago, but how it works and functions have not been disclosed to date.

Professor Cheong and his team separated breast and cervical cancer cells from the body and cultured them for a month before injecting them with MKRN1 genes. As a result, the growing and dividing cancer cells began aging and finally disappeared. This was possible because the genes suppressed the function of an enzyme called “telomerase” that helps grow cancer cells, which only works on cancer cells.

Human body cells are composed of 46 chromosomes, and the tip of every chromosome is protected by special structures dubbed “telomeres.” The telomeres get shorter with every cell division, and they cease to divide and start aging to finally become extinct at the “aging point.”

However, cancer cells are different as telomerase protects telomeres from being shortened as far as the aging point. Therefore, cancer cells do not get old and continue cell division to spread themselves to other organs.

“This research was done in the lab, but it is as good as having developed an actual therapy since we’ve experimented on human cancer cells instead of those of rats,” Professor Cheong said.

Cheong anticipated, hence, good results from the clinical tests soon to be performed on real cancer patients.

The research result is reported in the latest edition of the famous biotech magazine: “Genes and Development.”

Sang-Hoon Rhee corekim@donga.com