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Doing the splits – how do cells divide correctly?

  • Researcher: Professor Jonathan Higgins
  • Institution: Brigham and Womens Hospital
  • Award Amount: £169,911 for 3 years from June 2011
  • Cancer Type: General Cancer Research
Doing the splits – how do cells divide correctly?
Vital information that our cells require is coded for by our genes. The genes themselves are packaged into string-like structures called chromosomes. When a cell divides to produce two new cells, it firstly has to copy all of its chromosomes and then give one complete set to each of the two new cells. To do this, all of the identical pairs of chromosomes are compacted into sausage-shaped structures and are lined up down the middle of the cell. Traction fibres then pull the pairs apart, moving each set towards the opposite ends of the cell. The other ends of the traction fibres are attached to tiny bodies called the spindle poles, which lie at each end of the dividing cell. This process is very carefully controlled because having an altered, incomplete or too large a set of chromosomes can make a cell malfunction - and in some cases it can lead to the cell becoming cancerous. When this process goes wrong it is often because, instead of one spindle pole at each end of the cell, there are several spindle poles. Dr Higgins is using his Worldwide Cancer Research grant to understand how this occurs and what consequences it has for the resulting cells which can cause them to become cancerous. The more we know about the mechanism of cell division, the greater the opportunities for developing new and improved drugs.
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