Unlike normal cells, cancer cells can grow and age without dying — one of the reasons they’re so dangerous. But researchers at Washington State University have developed a way to help cancer cells age and die, which could lead to treatment that slows or stops tumor growth.
How do cancer cells differ from normal cells in terms of their mortality?
The big difference between cancer cells and normal cells is that cancer cells can divide forever and live forever. We call this immortality. The normal cells will divide for a number of divisions and then stop growing. They get old and either they die or they sit there and do nothing. They are mortal.
Cancer cells have a way to maintain their . Their telomeres don’t get shortened. Each time the normal cells divide they lose some telomere DNA sequences. Eventually when the telomere DNA becomes too short, they stop growing. There are also other factors contributing to the mortality of normal cells.
Is the immortality of cancer cells what makes them so dangerous?
The cancer cells divide uncontrollably. Then you have more and more cancer cells in one location of your body that can invade the surrounding tissues and disrupt the function of the normal tissues. They form the tumor. The cancer cells also can circulate around your body and get into other places and form tumors in the new locations. This is in part due to the immortality of cancer cells. They don’t die. Normal cells grow at one location and at some point they will stop.