It was a scientist named Leonard Hayflick who discovered that most normal human cell types lose their ability to divide and ultimately die after undergoing a limited number of cell divisions.
Such cells contain no active telomerase, an enzyme required to maintain chromosome stability in dividing cells.
In contrast, most cancer cells have an unlimited ability to undergo cell division, and these “immortal” cells almost always contain measurably active telomerase, which they produce continuously.
“We are successfully exploiting this difference between normal cells and cancer cells to detect the presence of cancer cells in the prostate gland,” says Richard E. Beltz, PhD, emeritus professor of biochemistry, School of Medicine.
Dr. Beltz is a member of a research group that recently published several in a series of articles on its research in the professional journal Urologic Oncology. The first article is titled “Detection of telomerase activity in prostatic fluid specimens” .
George R. Prout Jr., editor in chief of the journal, commented on the article, saying “The article entitled ‘Detection of telomerase activity in prostatic fluid specimens’ by Wang et al. is a very clever paper, and the results strongly suggest that we’ll be using this in the clinic in the not too distant future.”
A second article, “Telomerase activity in sextant needle cores from radical prostatectomy specimens,” Urologic Oncology has also been published and a third in the series is being prepared.
Scientists contributing to the research and preparation of the journal articles include individuals from the School of Medicine department of biochemistry and the Loma Linda University Medical Center department of surgery’s division of urology.
“Our studies have shown that telomerase assays [measurements] performed on prostatic fluid could play an important role in the detection of prostate cancer,” Dr. Beltz explains. “Unfortunately, the method we employed for measuring telomerase activity requires radioactive material and apparatus that are not suitable for clinical laboratory use.”
The challenge, he continues, is to develop a new telomerase assay method, which is usable in a clinical setting and is comparable to or better than the original method in accuracy and precision.
“A second challenge,” Dr. Beltz adds, “is to investigate other urogenital fluids, more easily obtainable than prostatic fluid, as potential clinical specimens for prostate cancer diagnosis. Research is now proceeding along these lines.”
“He continues research as an active emeritus professor in collaboration with George Javor, PhD, professor of biochemistry,” indicates Clifford Herrmann, PhD, associate professor and acting chair, department of biochemistry/microbiology, School of Medicine. “A poster describing some of their results was presented at the May, 2006, meeting of the American Society of Microbiology.”
In addition to lecturing to medical students through the years, Dr. Beltz has served as facilitator in the problem-based learning setting with small groups of first-year medical students.