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August 22nd, 2007
The annoying bulges of an overwound telephone cord that shorten its reach and limit a caller's motion help explain why drugs called camptothecins are so effective in killing cancer cells, according to investigators led by Mary-Ann Bjornsti, Ph.D., at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and Nynke Dekker, Ph.D., at Delft Technology University.
Using nanoscale magnetic tweezers (nanotweezers), the researchers showed that a camptothecin drug called topotecan kills cancer cells by preventing an enzyme called DNA topoisomerase I from uncoiling double-stranded DNA in those cells. Instead, the DNA becomes locked in tight twists called supercoils, which bulge out from the side of the overwound DNA molecule much like the bulges in an overwound telephone cord. If these supercoils accumulate and persist while the cell is trying to separate the two strands of DNA to make exact copies of the chromosomes during cell division, the cells will die.
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