Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Trouble Next Door

Gene that induces cell senescence promotes tumour formation

12 July 2020

Trouble Next Door

Senescence is a phenomenon where ageing or damaged cells go into a kind of ‘sleeping’ state where they stop proliferating, protecting us from cancer. But a new study suggests that these sleeper cells may be having an untoward influence on their neighbours, as previous experiments have shown that getting rid of senescent cells in tissues actually reduces the chances of developing cancer. Skin samples from normal mice (left hand panels) show cells growing in orderly, thin layers. But samples from animals that have been genetically engineered to permanently switch on p16, a gene that triggers senescence (right hand panels), reveal that these sleeping cells send out signals causing neighbouring healthy skin cells to grow out of control and start heading down the road to cancer. Maybe blocking these signals – or getting rid of senescent cells altogether – could turn out to be a good strategy for preventing cancer in the future.

Written by Kat Arney

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