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Making new cells

Prostate cancer cells dividingWe need a constant supply of new cells within our bodies. They are needed as we develop from a single egg cell into a baby, then grow into an adult. We also need new cells to replace dead or damaged cells.

But cells don’t just appear from nowhere. They are produced by an existing cell copying itself and splitting to produce two new cells. Scientists call this whole process the ‘cell cycle’. Normally the cell cycle is tightly controlled, so new cells are only made when and where they are needed.

Cancer Research UK scientists have made many advances in understanding the processes that control how cells are made. This work is providing many exciting leads for new treatments, some of which are being tested in clinical trials.

This page explains how healthy cells are made, and how this process goes wrong in cancer. 

Healthy cells

This short animation shows how healthy cells are made in the body - a process that happens millions of times every minute:

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Cancer cells

In cancer the cell cycle runs out of control. Many abnormal cells are produced, forming a tumour. This short animation shows what happens when cancer cells multiply out of control:

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Over the years, Cancer Research UK scientists have made many breakthroughs in understanding how the cell cycle works in healthy cells, and what goes wrong in cancer. For example, our researchers Professor Paul Nurse and Dr Tim Hunt won a Nobel Prize in 2001 for their pioneering studies of the molecules involved in the cell cycle.

In the next section you can find out more about the science behind the cell cycle: how DNA is copied and how damage to DNA is repaired; how the cell gets ready to divide; the molecular engine that drives cell division; and how cells finally split in two.

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