Telomeres, Stem Cells And Cancer
Telomeres Stem Cells and Cancer, Oh My!
The field of telomere biology is ever expanding, and periodically it is a good idea to review our state of knowledge in this actively researched field. A group from Germany recently published in the journal Cell a summary of our collective background on telomeres, stem cells, and cancer (Cells, vol152, issue 3, 2013, p. 390). 
Background on Telomeres Stem Cells and Cancer
In Telomeres Stem Cells and Cancer, the Stem cells are cells that have the potential to transform themselves into other cell types. For example, stem cells can become skin cells or cells of the immune system. Stem cells transform themselves into these other cell types in order to replace older or dead cells and, in this way, regenerate tissues in our body.
As reviewed in the article, stem cells have certain characteristics that allow them to replicate more than other cells within our tissue. For example, they have higher telomerase activity levels than normal (somatic) cells. They also have more stringent mechanisms of DNA repair. A combination of these two factors and other mechanisms makes stem cells long-lived and able to replicate far more than other cells. Nevertheless, these cells do grow old and accumulate mutations that lead to pathologies in our body, including cancer. 
On this point in Telomeres Stem Cells and Cancer, there is a growing amount of evidence that indicates that some cancers have stem cells as the initial cell of origin. This paper is very interesting because they hypothesize that old stem cells that have damaged telomeres (due to cell replication) get two types of signals that can lead to either senescence (old age) or cancer. This review, therefore, focuses on a “sensing” balance within telomeres that determine whether a stem cell becomes senescent or cancerous; where this balance lies depends on the telomere repair mechanism and the role of telomerase activity.
Telomeres Stem Cells and Cancer, The Argument For Telomerase
The authors who studied Telomeres Stem Cells and Cancer also mention a study that demonstrates that high telomerase activity can help relieve the stress of cellular replication that leads to telomere protection. This is evidence that even stem cells may need a little extra boost in telomerase activity to work longer and avoid pathologies such as cancer.
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