A new discovery from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation shows that creating more blood vessels can actually stunt the growth of some cancerous tumors.
Tumors, like flowers, need a variety of nutrients to grow. Where plants use roots to draw water and minerals from the soil, cancers use blood vessels to deliver the nourishment needed to expand.
The American Cancer Society estimates about 300,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and nearly 40,000 will die from it. If the growth of breast tumors can be slowed, however, it could allow more time for life-saving treatments, said OMRF scientist Hong Chen, Ph.D.
"Obviously, we don't want cancers growing large, so we are trying to better understand the mechanics of angiogenesis—the creation of blood vessels—which led us to experiment with epsins," she said.
Epsins are proteins that regulate the formation of blood vessels. When Chen's lab removed epsins from the system, they expected to see unrestricted blood vessel growth and large, aggressive tumors. Instead they found the opposite.
"In the absence of epsins, several blood vessels were made, but the tumors were smaller," said OMRF researcher Satish Pasula, Ph.D. "When we looked closer, we noticed that the blood vessels didn't function properly."
Without fully functional blood vessels, the cancers either didn't form or stayed small and stunted.
In the next step of the research, Chen's lab will examine how suppressing or removing epsins affects pre-existing tumors. Researchers say if the creation of non-functioning blood vessels slows the growth of tumors, it might stop a pre-existing tumor from growing further and allow it to be surgically removed.