Medical Research

University of California, Santa Barbara

Denise Montell
Santa Barbara, CA
December 2013

Apoptosis, programmed cell death, is an essential process in the development and homeostasis of multicellular organisms.  Apoptosis can serve as a protective mechanism by eliminating abnormal or damaged cells.  During apoptosis, a cascade of biochemical signals initiate cellular self-destruction.  It is generally believed that once this signaling cascade is triggered, it cannot be reversed.  Researchers, now at University of California, Santa Barbara, have discovered a cell biological phenomenon that overturns the dogma that progress towards cell death is irreversible.  They found that many different cell types can survive and proliferate even after passing checkpoints previously believed to be points of no return.  The investigators termed this process anastasis (Greek: rising to life), and posit that this mechanism evolved to salvage cells and limit permanent tissue damage caused by transient exposures to insults such as ischemia, radiation or toxins.  The team will use state-of-the-art screening techniques to identify genes, mRNAs, microRNAs and proteins that could be responsible for anastasis.  Finally, they will screen for small molecules that promote or inhibit anastasis.  These studies could lead to interventions for either delaying healthy cell death (neurodegenerative disease) or hastening cell death (cancer).

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