The over-activity of an enzyme called telomerase is believed to contribute to the unchecked growth of as many as 90 percent of human tumors. A lack of detailed information regarding its structure had hindered attempts to develop agents to block its effect.
Researchers led by Thomas Cech at the University of Colorado now claim to have cracked the structure of an essential part of this enzyme, the online edition of BBC News reported.
Telomerase plays a key role in the development of the human embryo during pregnancy, by extending important areas at the tips of chromosomes called telomeres. In most healthy adult cells, the enzyme is completely shut down.
However, cancer cells find a way to activate telomerase - triggering uncontrolled cell division. Developing therapies that block the action of telomerase could be the key to treat many types of cancer.