Attacking a tumor's longevity via telomerase

John Curtis

Telomerase, the protein that keeps cells alive by adding new bits of DNA to chromosomes, may be a target for treatment against cancer, according to David R. Corey, Ph.D., an associate professor of pharmacology and biochemistry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. At Cancer Center grand rounds in March, Corey suggested that oligonucleotides could inhibit telomerase, which is found in 80 percent of solid tumors.

Although its normal job is to repair telomeres, which maintain chromosomes, telomerase confers a kind of immortality on tumors. Corey found that certain oligonucleotides, small clusters of nucleic acids, caused tumor cells to grow more slowly and eventually die. When the oligonucleotides were withdrawn, the tumor cell grew at a normal rate.

“You would not ever think about giving a telomerase inhibitor as a primary treatment to try to shrink the tumor,” Corey said. “Instead, after initial chemotherapy and radiation, you would remove most of the tumor volume and then start treating with telomerase inhibitors and hope that, in combination with other drugs, they would help keep the tumor from recurring.”