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Date posted: January 7, 2013

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center have discovered a new form of cell division in human cells.

They believe it serves as a natural back-up mechanism during faulty cell division, preventing some cells from going down a path that can lead to cancer.

“If we could promote this new form of cell division, which we call klerokinesis, we may be able to prevent some cancers from developing,” says lead researcher Dr. Mark Burkard, an assistant professor of hematology-oncology in the Department of Medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

Burkard will present the finding on Dec. 17 at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco.

A physician-investigator who sees breast cancer patients, Burkard studies cancers in which cells contain too many chromosomes, a condition called polyploidy.

About 14 percent of breast cancers and 35 percent of pancreatic cancers have three or more sets of chromosomes, instead of the usual two sets. Many other cancers have cells containing defective chromosomes rather than too many or too few.

“Our goal in the laboratory has been to find ways to develop new treatment strategies for breast cancers with too many chromosome sets,” he says. The original goal of the current study was to make human cells that have extra chromosomes sets. But after following the accepted recipe, they unexpectedly observed the new form of cell division.

Until now, Burkard and most cell biologists today accepted a century-old hypothesis developed by German biologist Theodor Boveri, who studied sea urchin eggs. Boveri surmised that faulty cell division led to cells with abnormal chromosome sets, and then to the unchecked cell growth that defines cancer. With accumulated evidence over the years, most scientists have come to accept the hypothesis.

Normal cell division is at the heart of an organism’s ability to grow from a single fertilized egg into a fully developed individual. More than a million-million rounds of division must take place for this to occur. In each division, one mother cell becomes two daughter cells. [Read more]

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