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Cancer and Apoptosis

Apoptosis a process whereby cells organize their own death. It can be initiated by physiological stimuli, or a variety of types of cell injury. It is one of the main types of programmed cell death, and involves an orchestrated series of biochemical events leading to a characteristic cell morphology and death. The apoptotic process occurs in such a way as to safely dispose of cell corpses and fragments. When the ability to undergo apoptosis after DNA damage is lost, cells with inappropriately repaired DNA survive, and some of these may be founders of cancer. Researchers in this thematic are therefore working to understand the cellular processes of apoptosis and its regulation in order to find the causes and possible treatments for cancer.

Cancer arises when cells lose the ability to die following injury, begin to divide uncontrollably and invade other tissues. Cancer cells spread by direct growth into adjacent tissue or by implantation into distant sites, a process called metastasis and whereby cancer cells are transported through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to distant sites. The unregulated growth that characterizes cancer is caused by damage to DNA, resulting in mutations to genes that encode proteins controlling cell division. These mutations can be caused by chemicals or physical agents called carcinogens, by close exposure to radioactive materials, or by certain viruses that can insert their DNA into the human genome. Mutations may occur spontaneously, or may be passed down from one generation to the next in the germ lines.

Researchers within this thematic investigate common human tumours such as breast cancer, lymphoma and brain tumours in order to try to understand the genetic mutations resulting in these disorders and, hopefully, identify points of attack by new therapies.

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