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Scientists Identify Potential Drug Target for Inflammatory Diseases, Including Cancer

Discovery offers promise of new, targeted cancer treatments (Nov. 21)

Researchers at the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (ASTAR) in Singapore have identified the enzyme telomerase as a cause of chronic inflammation in human cancers. Chronic inflammation is recognized as a major cause of the development of many cancers, autoimmune disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes. The new data show that telomerase — which plays a key role in the ability of cancer cells to divide — can also “jumpstart” and maintain chronic cancer-related inflammation.

The new findings were published in Nature Cell Biology.

In the U.S., the current annual costs associated with cancer and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, total approximately $132 billion. Although many safe and effective anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, are currently on the market, these medications can have serious side effects.

The researchers found that telomerase directly regulates the production of inflammatory molecules expressed by nuclear factor kappa-B (NF-kB), a known regulator of chronic inflammation. These inflammatory molecules are critical for cancer progression. When the researchers inhibited telomerase activity in primary cancer cells obtained from patient samples, they found that the expression of interleukin-6 — an inflammatory molecule known to be a key driver of human cancers — was also reduced. The discovery suggests that targeting telomerase could potentially inhibit inflammation and kill cancer cells.

“These findings provide a unifying explanation for a decade’s worth of observations from leading laboratories in the field, which show that chronic inflammation and telomerase hyperactivity co-exist in over 90% of human cancers,” said Dr. Vinay Tergaonkar. “What we show is that these two activities are actually interdependent. They also may lead to potentially novel drugs that will target a range of human ailments with inflammation as an underlying cause, which range from arthritis to cancer.”

Source: ASTAR; November 21, 2012.

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