The human body contains cells with different life expectancies. Some, like white blood cells and skin cells, are programmed to rapidly die and be replaced by new cells. Others, such as nerve cells in the brain, are programmed to survive the lifetime of the individual and are seldom replaced. The naturally occurring turnover of cells in the body is called programmed cell death, or apoptosis.
All cells are endowed with this genetic program for self-destruction in order to balance cell production with cell loss.
How our research helps improve health
Defects in apoptosis occur commonly in disease—it is estimated that defects in the program controlling cell lifespan are implicated in over half of the major medical illnesses for which there or no cures or prevention strategies. Too much cell death can result in untimely brain cell death (as in neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease), while too little cell death contributes to the cell accumulation seen in tumors.