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Skeletons Come out of the Closet to Fight Cancer

Cancer cells divide rapidly and uncontrollably.  Anticancer drugs that target the microtubule cytoskeleton work by preventing cancer cells from dividing correctly, but they also affect other rapidly dividing healthy cells and some aggressive cancers are resistant to their effects. New insights are revealing how specific features of the microtubule cytoskeleton are making cancer cells more aggressive and difficult to treat, paving the way for new anticancer therapies. Credit: Mopic/adobe

Cancer cells divide rapidly and uncontrollably. Anticancer drugs that target the microtubule cytoskeleton work by preventing cancer cells from dividing correctly, but they also affect other rapidly dividing healthy cells and some aggressive cancers are resistant to their effects. New insights are revealing how specific features of the microtubule cytoskeleton are making cancer cells more aggressive and difficult to treat, paving the way for new anticancer therapies. Credit: Mopic/adobe

By Amelia Parker

Cells have skeletons that hold their shape and help them move around. Recent discoveries have revealed that a protein in some cytoskeletons is making cancer cells more deadly, fundamentally challenging our understanding of the function of the cell’s skeleton and offering new hope for the development of targeted and effective cancer therapies.

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Despite decades of advances in the way we understand, diagnose and treat cancer, a cancer diagnosis is one of uncertainty. Not all cancers behave in the same way or respond in the same way to treatment, leaving patients without assurances that the treatments that they endure will work, all while suffering through debilitating and potentially lifelong side-effects. Improvements in cancer treatments will depend on our ability to accurately predict which treatments will work most effectively in which patients.

Far from being a benign structural entity, the cell skeleton, or cytoskeleton, has now emerged as an important determinant of cancer’s aggression, making it a target for the next generation of specific anticancer treatments.

No Bones About It, Cells Have Skeletons Too

Unlike the bones that make up our body’s skeleton, the cytoskeleton is made up of a mesh of protein filaments that span the crowded interior of the cell. These filaments are composed of different types of proteins arranged like beads on a string. These form an elaborate interconnected network that holds the shape of the cell and helps cells move around.

Microtubules are one of the main types of filaments that form this cytoskeletal network. Although these microtubule fibres play a fundamental role in the processes that keep cells alive and functioning, they are also emerging...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.