Cancer is one of the world's greatest health afflictions because, unlike some diseases, it is a moving target, constantly evolving to evade and resist treatment.
In a paper published in Nature, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and the UC San Diego branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, with colleagues in New York and the United Kingdom, describe how a phenomenon known as "chromothripsis" breaks up chromosomes, which then reassemble in ways that ultimately promote cancer cell growth.
Chromothripsis is a catastrophic mutational event in a cell's history that involves massive rearrangement of its genome, as opposed to a gradual acquisition of rearrangements and mutations over time. Genomic rearrangement is a key characteristic of many cancers, allowing mutated cells to grow or grow faster, unaffected by anti-cancer therapies.
"These rearrangements can occur in a single step," said first author Ofer Shoshani, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of the paper's co-senior author Don Cleveland, PhD, professor of medicine, neurosciences and cellular and molecular medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
"During chromothripsis, a chromosome in a cell is shattered into many pieces, hundreds in some cases, followed by reassembly in a shuffled order. Some pieces get lost while others persist as extra-chromosomal DNA (ecDNA). Some of these ecDNA elements promote cancer cell growth and form minute-sized chromosomes called 'double minutes.'"