We recently explained that aging and death are caused by the fact that the ends of our cells, called telomeres, shorten every time the cell divides. But there is one kind of cell that has the secret of eternal life: cancer cells. If we could learn how they live forever, unless killed by chemotherapy or radiation, we might be able to figure out how we can live forever too.

Shaoni Bhattacharya writes in New Scientist that cancer cells stay young by adding tiny caps to their telomeres whenever they divide, so they don’t get shorter the way the ends of regular cells do. Researcher Madalena Tarsounas says, “Cancer has an amazing ability to shake off the shackles of aging and death, which is one of the reasons why it can be so hard to treat.”

If cancer can’t show us how to live for ever, we might at least be able to figure out how to attack the telomeres of cancerous cells so they age and die like every other cell does. Researcher Robert Souhami says, “Cancer cells are adept at slipping the constraints of the aging process, but this highly significant study points to ways of making them mortal, and vulnerable, once more.”

Changing the telomeres of cancer cells would be a wonderful alternative for cancer patients who now have to undergo debilitating chemotherapy or radiation. Now it’s been discovered that a substance in green tea helps kill leukemia cells by interrupting the communication signals they need in order to survive. What made researchers look at green tea? Since the 1970s, studies have shown that in parts of the world where people drink lots of it, the incidence of cancer is lower. Dr. Neil E. Kay says, “We’re continuing to look for therapeutic agents that are nontoxic to the patient but kill cancer cells, and this finding?is an excellent start.”

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