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D. Understanding a Cell's Life or Death Switch

Narrator: This is Science Today. There's a precarious balance constantly going on within our bodies - the balance of cellular life and death. Preprogrammed cell death, or apoptosis, is essential for life, as it causes the destruction of toxic cells like cancer, which are being produced perpetually in our bodies. On the other hand, Joel Rothman, a professor of molecular biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says sometimes cells trigger this process of cell death when they shouldn't.

Rothman: One very profound example is in heart attack or stroke - apoptosis of the tissue occurs after the heart attack or stroke has occurred. If we could block that cell death that occurs after the event has occurred, we would actually be ale to protect patients against the widespread damage the occurs in the heart or the brain after those diseases.

Narrator: Rothman and his colleagues recently discovered the major regulator of this cell death switch.

Rothman: How is that switch controlled? How are all of these events tightly orchestrated? And that's a major focus of our work.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.