As published in this month's issue of the journal Cancer Cell, the scientists found that in addition to the well-known strategy of secreting proteins to trigger angiogenesis, tumor cells also physically attach to a protein displayed on the surfaces of cells that line the walls of our blood vessels. This physical interaction, like a finger pushing a button, sends a signal within these cells to grow and sprout new capillaries.
The finding, while technical in nature, has potentially major implications for anti-angiogenic therapy, one of the hottest areas in cancer research. Dr. Cun-Yu Wang, a scientist at the University of Michigan and senior author on the paper, said the finding suggests a future anti-angiogenic strategy of blocking not only the secreted molecules but also the cell-to-cell contact.
Wang said these early data also suggest the intriguing possibility of directing growth-inhibiting drugs at the normal blood vessel cells to stop angiogenesis. "It's well established that tumor cells can become resistant to chemotherapy," said Dr. Wang. "For endothelial cells, which are the cells that line the walls of the blood vessels, there is no indication that resistance is a problem. It's an intriguing idea, and one that we think might be well worth pursuing."
This month's paper, as is often the case in the world of science, involves a great deal of hard work - and a little luck. Wang said his group began a few years ago studying a secreted protein called hepatocyte growth factor, or HGF, and its role in helping head and neck tumors to turn cancerous. HGF does so, in part, by helping to induce nearby blood vessels to grow misguidedly toward a