19 December 2013

Molecular clamp to force cancer cells to age


Cancer cells are nearly immortal. But if they could be made to die of old age like other cells do, their murderousness would be curtailed. With this in mind, University of Copenhagen chemistry student Nicolaj Nylandsted Andersen is developing a molecule that will force cancer cells to die off as other cells do. The research has earned him a one-year Novo Nordisk/Novozymes scholarship worth 84,000 kroner.

Prolonged DNA prolongs life... For cancer cells

The body’s cells take a step towards death whenever they divide. At the ends of cell chromosomes are oblong stretches of DNA known as telomeres. Every time a cell divides, the telomere shortens. When no more telomere remains, the cell cannot divide and it perishes. Unfortunately, cancer cells cheat death. They are able to lengthen their telomeres with the help of an enzyme known as a telomerase.

Complicated knot blocks elongation enzymes

For the most part, telomeres are folded together in a complex knot of what is known as a G-Quadruplex. Enzymes can only elongate the telomeres within if able to bind. In light of this, Nicolaj Nylandsted Andersen, an MSc student at the Department of Chemistry, is developing a helice molecule able to attach itself onto the end of a cancer cell’s G-Quadruplex and act as a clamp.

”My molecule will be composed of two half-circles that can attach to G-Quadruplexes. This will force the cancer cell telomeres to remain folded and unable to be lengthened,” explains Andersen. He hopes that his microscopic straightjacket will compel cancer cells to simply age and die.

Lovende skruetvinge

Helices are a new and promising way of creating a molecular straightjacket. And if successful, the use of helices will revolutionise cancer drug development. But the task isn’t that simple. Indeed, getting it to work is just the beginning. It also needs to be harmless and water-soluble to be absorbed and delivered into cells, explains Andersen.

"It’s one thing to get it to work in a test tube. Producing a pill is another story!

Nicolaj Nylandsted Andersen

Chemistry student

University of Copenhagen

”It’s one thing to get it to work in a test tube. Producing a pill is another story”, Nicolaj Nylandsted Andersen emphasises .

39 A students get stipend

Novo Nordisk/Novozymes awards 39 scholarships to natural sciences and biotechnology graduate students enrolled in Danish universities or the Lund University in Sweden. With up to 84,000 Danish kroner available per year, the scholarship is one of the most generous grants available for students. For Nicolaj Nylandsted Andersen, the scholarship means that he will be able to concentrate on the difficult test tube work ahead, as well as visit his family back home on the island of Funen a bit more often.

Nikolaj Nylandsted Andersen will carry out his project under the supervision of Associate Professor Michael Pittelkow of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Chemistry.

Ambassadors for Science

Novo Scholarship programme recipients also have the opportunity to communicate their interest in the natural sciences as a Novo Science Ambassador. Novo Science Ambassadors are encouraged to share the excitement of their particular field. Ambassadors can be requested, for free, by 8th – 10th grade classes and high schools. (For more information, please visit: http://www.formidling.dk/sw1811.asp) The arrangement is sponsored by Novo Nordisk and Novozymes, and administered by Danish Science Factory.