Telomerase, an enzyme that makes cancer cells grow, is a better target for chemotherapy than previously thought, a Yale researcher and colleagues at the University of Colorado have found. Sandra L. Wolin, Ph.D., one of the authors of a study published in the September 9 issue of Nature, said scientists now have another clue as to how the enzyme is constructed and, therefore, where it might be vulnerable to chemotherapy.

“Telomerase is thought to be an incredibly important enzyme because it is part of what makes a cancer cell a cancer cell,” said Wolin, associate professor of cell biology and of molecular biophysics and biochemistry. Wolin and her colleagues found that telomerase in the yeast cells contained proteins that were thought to be unique to RNA-protein complexes that process messenger RNAs. What this means, said Wolin, is that the telomerase enzyme is assembled using a pathway that already is very well known to researchers. “This discovery is important because telomerase is a potential target for chemotherapy and now we know more about it.”