It's often said that science's greatest quality is that it's never quite as fixed as other disciplines. Whereas religion and law are bound in some sense to past precedent and practise, science truly adapts dynamically to new ideas and developments. The latest development in pharmaceutical science follows research by Danish scientists into the nature and quality of human cells. Not only that, but this research offers new inroads into further medical treatments and therapies in the future.
We're taught in science classes – those who specialise in biology anyway – that human cells divide via a process called "mitosis". This is usually done by the cell's DNA splitting into two new parts, the new strand of which later forms the nucleus of the new cell. Beforehand this replication was thought to only occur during the "S-phase", the synthesis phase, which occurs just before mitosis when the DNA actually starts to split. Errors or complications in this process can often lead to disease, or even the death of human cells. In worst case scenarios, it may also lead to cancer.
However, Danish researchers funded by the Danish National Research Foundation have shed new light on the matter, and revealed that some parts of the genome are only copied after mitosis, not before it.
According to Professor Ian Hickson, the Director of the Centre for Chromosome Stability, "It has radically altered our views and requires that the textbook view of the human cell cycle be revised."
Chromosomes have a rather unfortunate tendency to break when passing through what are known as fragile sites in the various genomes of different species. The fragile sites are usually conserved, and are frequently associated with genome make-ups responsible for the eventual development of cancer. However if the research suggested by Professor Hickson and his team has any merit to them, it could well be that the problem is a lot less complicated than first realised.
"We now know that the chromosome isn't actually broken […] they appear broken because they're far less compacted than other chromosomes."
While the find was completed accidental – scientists weren't actively looking for anomalies in the human cell cycle in the first place, the research has left a lot of people excited. This essentially means we've discovered new insights into the inner workings of our microbiology.
For those of us who aren't as fascinated by the cycle of human cells, meanwhile, there are practical pharmaceutical reasons to be interested in what this research could result in. The elusive cure for cancer is very much the philosopher's stone of modern medicine, and its discovery has been the goal of medical researchers for the past century. One of the key ways this cure can be acquired is understanding just how cancer is caused and can form in seemingly healthy cells.
We already know of at least two proteins that are responsible for the unusual way in which cells are now seen to form. The task is figuring out the rest of the things required before these pathways come into being themselves. Once this is understood, it becomes a lot easier to work out what chemicals can block this formation and thus allow enhanced preventive treatments for various kinds of cancer. Very quickly, pharmaceutical companies can start providing treatments to help prohibit the development of healthy cells into cancerous ones.
Certainly Professor Hickson himself is very optimistic about the prospects.
"Although it has not yet been proven, it seems that the growth of many, or indeed most, cancers in humans is dependent on this process. Hence, the development of a reliable, therapeutic drugs strategy would likely have wide applicability in cancer therapy.
"Our aim is to generate results that will lead to the development of new approaches to treatments of various types of cancer,"
Suffice to say this is not the first time a scientist has claimed to have found the hidden cure for cancer, and it pays to be a little cautious before declaring this to be end of the disease. However the evidence so far seems promising, so who knows? Maybe we'll finally see an end to cancer, or at the very least more effective treatments for it, within our lifetimes. If so, watch the shelves of your pharmacy very closely.[Source: ]