Cancer cells should die. Why don’t they?

August 28, 2012 | by Darrin Joy

City of Hope biologist Bing Shen, Ph.D., wants to know why cancer cells don’t just shut down and die. They should, after all — because they’re just a mess.

Image of dandelion seedsFull of mangled DNA, they really shouldn’t be able to work or survive. And most don’t. They break down and die through what's called apoptosis — nature’s way of eliminating bad seeds.

But some damaged cells manage to elude certain death and thrive.

Shen, who chairs City of Hope’s new Department of Radiation Biology, is hunting down their keys to survival.

Because the cells have gone haywire, he explains, they accidently make extra copies of their chromosomes. These chromosomes give the faulty cells the tools to fix their DNA just enough to get by.

According to Shen, knowing how cancer cells short-circuit the path to suicide could help researchers find drugs that flip the suicide switch back on.

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