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Restoring leaky blood vessels could lead to new cancer treatment

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by In collaboration with PA Media Group | News

22 November 2016

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Electron microscope image of a blood vessel.

Keeping blood vessels that supply tumours with oxygen and nutrients in good condition could help stop the spread of cancer, according to a new Belgian study.

Tumour blood vessels are often in a state of disrepair because they are fragile and leaky. Researchers at VIB (The Flanders Institute for Biotechnology) have found a way to make these blood vessels more normal again, and this could be a new approach to treating cancer.

“This new research could provide a way of developing drugs to normalise tumour blood vessels” – Professor Adrian Harris, University of Oxford.

By slowing down the rate that cells lining the blood vessels could burn sugar, the scientists could ‘cool down’ their overheated engines to create more healthy and structured blood vessels, according to the study published in the scientific journal Cancer Cell.

Professor Kairbaan Hodivala-Dilke of Barts Cancer Institute, London, added: “This study shows a beautiful example of exploiting new ways to change the blood vessels supplying tumours to potentially improve cancer treatment.

“These are exciting times and further research will determine the value of this approach in the future of cancer therapy.”

Blood vessel cells in tumours divide rapidly, consuming large quantities of sugar as energy for this process and ‘overheats’ their metabolism.

This causes them to become fragile and irregular in shape and size and means the blood vessels  don’t work as well as they should.

These leaky, fragile vessels help cancer cells escape into the bloodstream – allowing them to invade other organs. It also means that treatments can’t reach the heart of the tumour.

Professor Adrian Harris, of the University of Oxford, said: “Previous therapies, like Avastin, were developed to slow tumour growth by blocking the growth of blood vessels. They had some success, but tumours quickly became resistant and started growing even more aggressively after being starved of oxygen.

“Tumour blood vessels often don’t grow properly and are ‘leaky’. Instead of stopping their growth, patching up the leaky blood vessels could be more effective, by allowing better delivery of drugs and potentially immune cells into tumours. This new research could provide a way of developing drugs to normalise tumour blood vessels.”

Cantelmo, AR. et al. 2016. Inhibition of the Glycolytic Activator PFKFB3 in Endothelium Induces Tumor Vessel Normalization, Impairs Metastasis, and Improves Chemotherapy. Cancer Cell. doi: 10.1016/j.ccell.2016.10.006