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Telomere: structure of human telomeric DNA.

1985: Telomerase: The Nobel-prize winning key to beating 95% of cancers


Who is involved?

Elizabeth Blackburn, Jack Szostak, and Carol Greider

University of California Berkeley, California 94720 USA


The discovery of telomerase initially helped biologists understand how DNA at chromosome ends were replicated, but the significance was far greater than expected. It led to understanding how germ cells, developing embryos and stem cells keep growing, and also led to an understanding of how cancer cells keep growing. More importantly, it revealed a prime target for anti-cancer drugs that could potentially treat the ~95% of all cancers that use telomerase.


The science of telomerase and telomeres has come a long way since Elizabeth Blackburn first began experiments investigating chromosomal ends. The topic has drawn in researchers from many disciplines, including chemistry, structural biology, cell biology, aging, and cancer biology. The connection between telomerase, cancer, and cancer therapy has profoundly affected the current direction of cancer research and drug development, but telomerase/telomeres also play a role in cellular aging. It is likely that the next thirty years will yield a steady stream of new discoveries that significantly affect our understanding of cells and provide opportunities for developing novel therapeutics. [Ref: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2810624/]

There are currently a string of anti-cancer drugs in the pipeline for clinical trials (some in Phase II and III trials) targeting telomerase function and showing moderate success. [Ref: http://omicsonline.org/novel-therapeutics-targeting-telomerase-and-telomeres-1948-5956.1000e127.pdf].
As knowledge of telomeres and telomerase expands, the development of new potential therapeutics can be better targeted and better defined to improve their potential effectiveness in clinical trials. Even if the early round of drug candidates is showing only moderate success, there is great expectation for the next generation of therapies based on our ever expanding knowledge of telomeres.

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