Main contact a clue in the battle against cancer

15 April 2008

By cutting off the nutritional supply to tumours through treacherous blood vessels, it will perhaps be possible to gain ground in the battle against cancer. The molecular biologist Dan Edholm has been spying on the main contact for the cells that form blood vessels.

Blood vessels do not just have a life-sustaining function but can also act as collaborators with the enemy. They provide tumours with nutrition, allowing them to grow, and help metastases to disseminate through the blood. Restricting the biological processes that lie behind the formation of new blood vessels thus creates a possibility of increasing cancer patients' chances of survival.

Formation of blood vessels requires so-called endothelial cells, which constitute the walls of the blood vessels. These cells are recruited from stem cells back at the foetal stage, but maturation of the endothelial cells also requires a specific receptor (VEGFR-2), which acts as a main contact, as is shown by Dan Edholm's studies.  

"By using mutated stem cells, which lack any main contact, I have found that that receptor is necessary to the endothelial cells' capacity to form blood vessels, but not for formation of the endothelial cells," says Dan Edholm of the Department of Genetics and Pathology.

Dan Edholm has also studied an auxiliary receptor, Neuropilin-1, which the endothelial cells also need for formation of new blood vessels.

"The more we know about the processes that regulate formation of blood vessels, the better our chances of designing treatments to restrict the blood supply to tumours," says Dan Edholm.

There is also hope regarding treatments to stimulate formation of new blood vessels during wound healing. Knowledge of the way blood vessels are formed may also be used in the future for so called tissue engineering. The aim is to be able to use this technology as an artificial means of getting a patient's own stem cells to form organs or tissues, which can then be transplanted into the patient.

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