Researchers have identified a natural process in the human body that could one day be used to prevent tumours from stealing the nutrients they need to survive and spread.
To grow, tumours need a source of blood to feed them, which they steal by creating a network of rogue blood vessels ? a process known as angiogenesis.
Preventing this process is a major area of cancer research, as when the blood flow is cut off tumours are unable to grow beyond the size of a pea.
The discovery was made while scientists where examining a centuries-old puzzle: why no blood vessels form on the cornea of the eye.
The team, based at research institutions around the world, said that they have identified the molecule which prevents blood vessel formation.
“Cancers need oxygen and nutrients to grow, and they do this by attracting their own supply of blood vessels,” said Josephine Querido of Cancer Research UK.
“This laboratory research adds to our understanding of the molecules involved in this process.
“Although at an early stage, it will be interesting to see if this discovery may one day help scientists to develop cancer treatments that stop blood vessels from forming.”