New vulnerability identified in 90% of all cancer cells -

New mechanism in cancer development identified

A new discovery in cancer development paves the way for better cancer therapies. According to a recent study, a previously unknown mechanism leads to the formation of tumors in approximately 90% of all cancer cells.

A joint working group from various institutions in Singapore has identified a new mechanism of cancer progression that could be observed in 90% of cancer cells. This discovery lays the foundation for new cancer treatments with fewer side effects. The results were recently published in the journal Nucleic Acid Research.

Why healthy cells can't divide forever

As the researchers explain, the lifespan of a healthy cell is determined by what are called telomeres. These act as a sort of protective cap at the ends of the chromosomes. With each cell division, these telomeres become shorter, eventually losing their protective function, and the cell then dies naturally.

Cancer cells reverse this process

Cancer cells, on the other hand, have a mechanism that allows them to re-lengthen telomeres, giving them the ability to continue dividing and multiplying indefinitely.

Cancer cells do this by reactivating an enzyme called telomerase. In healthy adult cells, this enzyme is inactive. According to the study, cancer cells reactivate telomerase through a gene called human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT).

“Telomerase activation is the most common oncogenic event that confers immortality on cancer cells,” confirms research director Semih Akincilar of the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology (IMCB) in Singapore.

Excellent candidates to fight cancer cells

hTERT is activated in approximately 90% of all cancer cells. It is therefore a universal mechanism that leads to cancer. The working group therefore believes that the telomerase gene and enzyme are excellent candidates for fighting cancer cells.

However, previous attempts to treat cancer by inhibiting telomerase failed because the active ingredients used were toxic to healthy cells and therefore caused serious side effects.

Mechanism of hTERT gene activation identified

As part of the current study, the Singapore researchers have now succeeded in identifying a specific DNA structure that only forms in cancer cells. This structure sets in motion the molecular machinery necessary to activate the hTERT gene.

The scientists involved were thus able to reveal an attack point that only affects cancer cells and not healthy cells. Based on this, new drugs could be developed that specifically inhibit cancer cell division, but do not affect healthy cells.

Next Generation Cancer Inhibitors

“We now know how we can inhibit telomerase activity to target cancer cells,” Akincilar concludes. According to him, the results of the study are a guide for the development of new cancer inhibitors of the next generation. (vb)

Author and source information

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This text corresponds to the specifications of the specialized medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been verified by health professionals.


Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


Agency for Science, Technology and Research: New Discovery in Cancer Progression Paves the Way for Cancer Control (Published: 07/20/2022), Semih Can Akıncılar, Joelle Yi Heng Chua, Qin Feng Ng, et al. : Identification of mechanism of cancer cell-specific reactivation of hTERT offers therapeutic opportunities to block telomerase specifically in human colorectal cancer; in: Nucleic Acid Research (2022),

Important note:
This article contains general advice only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment. It cannot substitute a visit to the doctor.