Un recente studio mostra che il nostro corpo è  in grado di fornirci gli indizi necessari comprendere quanto sia grande il rischio di insorgenza di un tumore nell’immediato futuro: la chiave di tutto ciò è rappresentata dalle modificazioni di una particolare regione dei cromosomi, i telomeri.

Negli ultimi anni la battaglia contro il cancro è andata incontro a importanti migliorie: campagne di sensibilizzazione a favore della prevenzione, diagnosi precoce, evoluzioni nell’approccio radioterapico e chemioterapico hanno permesso di guardare con maggiore fiducia al futuro, contribuendo allo stesso tempo a rendere meno spaventoso un male che fino a qualche tempo fa sembrava essere un mostro invincibile.

Nonostante questo dal Monitor Biomedico 2015, l’indagine condotta periodicamente dal Censis nell’ambito del Forum per la Ricerca biomedica, emerge con estrema evidenza la necessità  di rendere i miglioramenti ottenuti fino ad ora, punti di partenza verso il raggiungimento di ulteriori obiettivi. Da questa indagine emerge infatti che le  malattie maggiormente temute dagli italiani sono proprio i tumori (62,6%), seguiti dalle malattie che provocano la non autosufficienza, le patologie cardiovascolari, quelle neurologiche e le demenze.

Proprio a pochi giorni dall’uscita dei dati Censis sono arrivati i risultati di un interessantissimo studio portato avanti da alcuni ricercatori americani delle Università di Harvard e  Northwestern. Non si tratta semplicemente della scoperta di qualche nuovo fattore di rischio né tantomeno della proposta di nuovi farmaci sperimentali, ma di qualcosa di molto più sorprendente e potenzialmente rivoluzionario: gli studiosi avrebbero messo a punto un nuovo test in grado di predire con ben 13 anni di anticipo e con una precisione vicina al 100% se una persona svilupperà un tumore. La chiave è in un’anomalia che colpisce la parte terminale dei nostri stessi cromosomi, i telomeri.

I telomeri, la porzione più distale dei nostri cromosomi
I telomeri, la porzione più distale dei nostri cromosomi

Tali strutture sono composte da sequenze di DNA altamente ripetuto e in larga parte non codificante: il loro ruolo principale è infatti quello di evitare la perdita di informazioni durante la duplicazione dei cromosomi.  Inoltre, stabilizzando le estremità dei cromosomi stessi, evitano che quest’ultimi si attacchino tra loro compromettendo la corretta segregazione del materiale genetico durante una divisione cellulare. Diversi studi hanno dimostrato che il progressivo accorciamento dei telomeri ad ogni ciclo replicativo sia associato all’invecchiamento cellulare:  questo perché i telomeri agirebbero come una sorta di orologio biologico, legato cioè ad un numero massimo di mitosi (e di replicazioni del DNA), al termine del quale la cellula sarebbe troppo vecchia per essere mantenuta in vita e prenderebbe la via dell’apoptosi, la morte cellulare programmata.

Schema illustrante l'inesorabile accorciamento dei telomeri.
Schema illustrante l’inesorabile accorciamento dei telomeri.

Nel recente studio americano i ricercatori hanno ripetutamente misurato, per un periodo di 13 anni, la lunghezza dei telomeri di 792 persone. Tra di loro un campione di 135, che si è poi ammalato di cancro (alla pelle, al polmone) o di leucemia, ha mostrato un’anomala evoluzione dei telomeri che si sono accorciati in modo rapido e precoce fino a quattro anni prima della diagnosi della malattia. In altre parole i telomeri di questi pazienti sono andati incontro ad un processo di invecchiamento che li ha portati ad assumere l’aspetto di quelli fisiologicamente osservabili in un individuo 15 anni più vecchio.

Evidentemente quello di cui si sta parlando esula dai soliti discorsi riguardanti la diagnosi precoce: infatti se i risultati di questo studio saranno confermati ed approfonditi, in futuro sarà possibile attaccare un tumore ancor prima che sia lecito farlo, vale a dire ancor prima che esso insorga.  Inoltre sarebbe possibile nel periodo che intercorre tra la scoperta dell’anomalo accorciamento dei telomeri e il momento della comparsa del tumore limitare al massimo i fattori di rischio a cui normalmente ci si espone, rendendo, quando ne arriverà il momento, più agevole l’approccio al cancro. 

Alessandro Savo Sardaro
Redazione | Università Degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata VI anno corso di laurea in Medicina e Chirurgia “Choose a job that you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”.

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