The cell cycle covers the life of a cell from its emergence, when the mother cell divides, to the point when it itself divides and is succeeded by its daughter cells.
In a healthy organism, cell division is subject to a strict control mechanism; errors that occur during cell division are detected and corrected. Cells with irreparable mutations die off (programmed cell death, also known as apoptosis) without passing the defect on to the next cell generation. In cancer cells, these and other cellular control mechanisms have ceased to function. The tumor cells divide unchecked, and their invasive proliferation destroys healthy body tissue.
Scientists researching in the 'cell cycle' field are developing ways of stopping the out-of-control proliferation of cancer cells by interfering with the biochemistry of their cell cycle. In this context they focus on mechanisms that are not relevant for normal cells – but are key to the survival of cancer cells. The aim is to develop drugs that specifically target and attack cancer cells and thus cause fewer side-effects than traditional chemotherapeutic agents.