Cancers known as sarcomas form in tissues such as muscle, fat, nerves and tendons that connect, support and surround the body’s organs and bones. There are currently very poor survival rates for people diagnosed with this form of cancer.
Cells have an inbuilt mechanism, the telomeres, that determine how many times the cell can replicate. Telomeres shorten each time the cell divides to reproduce itself – eventually reaching a critically short length that prevents further division.
Cancer cells evade this normal process by finding ways to extend their telomeres. Sarcomas and other cancers use a mechanism called “ALT”, in which DNA is added to the end of the telomere by copying it from somewhere else. The ALT process is active in 45 to 60% of sarcoma tumours.
Treatment options for patients with sarcoma have not changed in the past 35 years, in part because no suitable ALT specific drug target has been identified.