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Scientists cellular discovery could aid anti-cancer battle

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A 3-D view of the mesh: microtubules (green tubes) of the mitotic spindle are held together by a yellow network, the mesh. (Warwick Medical School)

Scientists have accidentally discovered a cell structure which may prove helpful in the understanding of cancer development.  

A group of researchers from the University of Warwick discovered “the mesh” and recently published their findings on the online journal elife.

The discovery alters the scientific understanding of internal scaffolding of a cell, and provides implications for treatment of cancer cells, given the structure partially shares a protein-based form with the disease.

"As a cell biologist you dream of finding a new structure in cells but it's so unlikely. Scientists have been looking at cells since the 17th Century and so to find something that no-one has seen before is amazing," said team leader, Dr. Stephen Royle.

A student of Royle was doing research on structures called mitotic spindles, when the mesh was accidentally found.

Cells use Mitotic spindles to ensure that each new cell has a full genome after division.

"We had been looking in 2D and this gave the impression that 'bridges' linked microtubules together. This had been known since the 1970s. All of a sudden, tilting the fiber in 3D showed us that the bridges were not single struts at all but a web-like structure linking all the microtubules together," noted Royle.

During division, a cell must accurately share chromosomes or the two resulting cells may be created with the incorrect number of chromosomes, which is referred to as aneuploidy and has been linked to various type of tumors.    

"Problems in cell division are common in cancer; cells frequently end up with the wrong number of chromosomes. This early research provides … a crucial insight into why this process becomes faulty in cancer and whether drugs could be developed to stop it from happening," said Dr. Emma Smith with the Cancer Research UK.

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