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Cells avoiding suicide may play role in spread of cancer

New studies probe mechanisms of death-defying anastasis

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11:51am, December 9, 2016
Anastasis

NOT DEAD YET  Cells on the brink of dying from a type of programmed suicide known as apoptosis (left, a cancer cell known as a HeLa cell) can come back to life through a process called anastasis (right) if conditions improve. DNA is shown in blue. 

SAN FRANCISCO — Mostly dead is still partly alive, even for cells on the brink of suicide, new research suggests.

Near-death experiences may play a role in embryo development and help cancer cells that survive chemotherapy spread throughout the body, Denise Montell, a cell biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, reported December 6 at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology.

Montell described a recently discovered process called anastasis that saves cells in the midst of committing a type of cellular suicide known as apoptosis. She and others are only beginning to unravel how the process works. Preliminary results indicate that cells simultaneously kill themselves and hold on to a lifeline in case conditions improve, she said.

Scientists had thought that once a cell going through apoptosis activated an executioner molecule known as a caspase, the cell would surely die, said Claire Walczak, a cell

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