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Telomeres, the structures that protect the ends of chromosomes, may provide a new anti-cancer target, according to a new study using mice from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO). This drug target, effective so far only in lung cancer, may be effective in a variety of tumor types.

Cancer cells rely on intact telomeres to replicate, so this new research focused on blocking the growth of a complex called shelterin, which forms a protective cover over the ends of a telomere.

CNIO scientists worked with mouse models that have an aggressive type of lung cancer. In this model, the tumors have an active K-Ras oncogene and a missing p53 tumor suppressor. "We choose a well-established mouse model for a very aggressive type of lung carcinomas. In this mouse model, there are no therapeutic targets identified so far that are able to block the growth of these tumors when targeted," Maria Blasco, one of the authors of the study and a researcher in the CNIO Telomeres and Telomerase Group told ALN exclusively.

The researchers found that TRF1 is the first drug targets that is able to inhibit the growth of these aggressive tumors. "First, we showed that TRF1 genetic abrogation was sufficient to stop aggressive lung cancer from growing. Second, we screened for chemical compounds that were able to achieve TRF1 targeting in vivo and show efficiency en decreasing the growth of these tumors without showing loss of mouse or organ viability," Blasco continued.

The researchers hope to move to clinical trials next. "We are further developing the chemical compounds that are able to target TRF1 in cancers into drugs that can be used in clinical trials. We are also testing the efficiency of targeting TRF1 in other tumor types besides lung cancer," Blasco added.

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