Putting The Squeeze On Cancer

Posted on: Tuesday, 15 June 2010, 09:35 CDT

Cell contractions may be key to initiating new blood-vessel growth near tumors.

Cancer researchers have been studying angiogenesis — the growth of new blood vessels — since the early 1970s, when Judah Folkman first theorized that tumors could be destroyed by cutting off their blood supply.

For most of that time, scientists have focused on the biochemical signals that promote angiogenesis, in hopes of finding drugs that can starve tumors by blocking their ability to release the proteins that promote vessel growth. More recently, a few scientists have taken a new approach: studying how contractions in nearby cells can stimulate angiogenesis.

Krystyn Van Vliet, associate professor of materials science and engineering at MIT, and researchers at Tufts University recently showed that cells called pericytes, which surround small blood vessels, generate contractions that could serve as a mechanical signal to initiate angiogenesis. “Up to now, people have assumed that the role of pericytes was biochemical in nature,” says Van Vliet.

Pinpointing the role of those mechanical signals could help researchers develop drugs that either promote angiogenesis to enhance wound healing or suppress the harmful angiogenesis that leads to tumor growth or vision loss (in age-related macular degeneration or diabetes-induced retinal damage), says Ira Herman, a professor of physiology at Tufts University School of Medicine and expert in pericyte cell biology who collaborated with Van Vliet on this study.



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