Scientific Programmes

Molecular Oncology Programme

Telomeres and Telomerase Group

Group Leader:  María A. Blasco

We study the mechanisms by which tumour cells are immortal and normal cells are mortal. The immortality of cancer cells is one of their most universal characteristics. The enzyme telomerase is present in more than 95% of all types of human cancers but is not present in normal cells in the body. Telomeres are nucleoprotein complexes located at the ends of chromosomes that are essential for chromosome protection and genomic stability. One of the many factors that lead to ageing is the progressive shortening of telomeres associated with organism ageing. When telomeres are altered (in their length or their integrity) adult stem cells have a maimed regenerative capacity.

Telomere length defects are associated with cancer and ageing processes, and have a profound effect on stem cell behaviour. We aim to determine the role of genetic and epigenetic telomere regulators in cancer and ageing by generating new mouse models and studying the role of these factors in stem cell biology.

Our research aims are:
  • Understanding the biology of the telomeres and telomerase by generating mouse models to probe the role of telomeres and telomerase in cancer and ageing.
  • Deciphering the interplay between telomeres and DNA repair pathways.
  • Studying the role and regulation of non-coding telomeric RNAs or TERRAs.
  • Developing strategies for telomerase activation.
  • Elucidating the role of telomerase and telomeres in adult stem cell biology and in nuclear reprogramming of differentiated cells to induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells.