Cellular Mechanisms and Cancer

BioFiles 2007, 2.4, 1.

BioFiles 2007, 2.4, 1.

The medical definition of cancer appears simple and straightforward. According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, cancer is “(a) term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control.”1 Behind this basic definition is a complex and unpredictable spectrum of over 100 types of cancer.

The human aspect of cancer cannot be completely separated from the scientific research. The World Health Organization recognizes cancer as a leading cause of death worldwide, and emphasizes prevention and early detection as crucial to reducing the global burden of the disease.2 The American Association for Cancer Research established its Scientist- Survivor program in 1999 to encourage communication between patients, patient advocates, and leading scientists in the field.3 Newspapers, magazines, and other media sources announce breakthrough discoveries to the public, increasing awareness that cancer is not an individual disease but a collection that has no single initiating event or defined evolution.

Cancer results from a cascade of abnormal cell reactions. When a cellular mechanism goes wrong, the resulting damage, if not repaired, may contribute to a cell’s evolution into malignancy. Because cancers begin with a single cell, cancer investigators use genomics, proteomics, and signaling techniques to determine and evaluate cellular changes and contributing cause and effect. Discoveries such as the correlation between the human papilloma virus and cervical cancer encourage the scientific community to seek similar breakthroughs for other cancer types. The understanding of cellular mutations and signaling pathways involved in mutagenesis and abnormal cell function has been used to screen potential new drugs with more efficacy and/or less toxicity.

It’s impossible to comprehensively review current cancer research; the amount of information is enormous and the rate of discovery is increasing. In the preface to his book “The Biology of Cancer”, Robert Weinberg writes “…we are deluged with a vast amount of genetic, biochemical, and cell biological information about cancer development, far more almost than any human mind can assimilate and comprehend.”4 For this issue of BioFiles we have selected three aspects of cancer biology to review.

  • The exploitation of ABC transporter proteins by cancer cells to export chemotherapeutic drugs
  • The activation of NF−κB in response to inflammation and its role in cancer progression
  • Genetic damage, mutagenesis, and cellular repair processes

Innovation @ Work - Innovative products from Sigma for genomics and proteomics studies, including gene silencing, protein expression profiling, phosphopeptide enrichment, and whole genome amplification, are also highlighted.

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  1. World Health Organization, Cancer Fact Sheet No. 297, Feb. 2006, www.who.int/mediacentre/ factsheets/fs297/en/index.html
  2. National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Institutes of Health, www.cancer.gov
  3. American Association for Cancer Research, www.aacr.org
  4. The Biology of Cancer, Robert A. Weinberg, Garland Science, Taylor & Francis Group, LLC, New York, NY (2007)

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