Over a century ago, a German-born scientist experimenting with impregnated sea urchin eggs had an insight that led to one of the first modern theories of cancer. Theodor Boveri linked incorrect chromosome number in urchin embryos with abnormal development. In 1902, he reasoned that having the wrong number of chromosomes could cause cells to grow uncontrollably and become the seeds of cancerous tumors. On January 12, 2017 in the journal Cancer Cell, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) Fellow Jason Sheltzer, Ph.D., and colleagues at CSHL and MIT report surprising results of experiments intended to explore the consequences of having too many or too few chromosomes, a phenomenon that biologists call aneuploidy. The article is titled “Single-Chromosome Gains Commonly Function As Tumor Suppressors." Ever since Boveri's era, it's been known that cells in most cancers - 90% of solid tumors and 75% of blood cancers - have abnormal chromosome numbers. (Most human cells normally have 46 chromosomes: two sets of 23, one set inherited from each parent.) The newly published experiments suggest the relation between aneuploidy and cancer is more complex than previously believed. "Boveri brilliantly hypothesized that having the wrong chromosome number disrupted an equilibrium in cells between signals that promote and inhibit proliferation, leading normal cells to be transformed into cancerous ones" Dr. Sheltzer says. "We set out to test this in cell lines derived from mice and humans, and came up with a result we definitely did not expect - which then led us to dig deeper for answers." Dr. Sheltzer, who began his project in the laboratory of Dr. Angelika Amon at MIT and carried it to conclusion in his own research group at CSHL, placed two sets of otherwise identical cells in culture dishes, side by side.
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