New drug target to block tumour growth and spread

29 Apr 2009

Scientists have discovered a secret behind new blood vessel formation which could provide promising new anti-cancer drug targets, according to research published in Current Biology.

The scientists from Cancer Research UK’s Centre for Cell and Molecular Biology at the Institute for Cancer Research (ICR), in collaboration with Elizabetta Dejana and Mercedes Montenero-Balaguer from the University of Milan / IFOM-IEO, showed that a molecule called VE-cadherin freezes the commands to sprout and grow new blood vessels. It does this by controlling the interplay between two key proteins called Rac and Rho-kinase.

The scientists already knew that new blood vessels form by sprouting - similar to the way that branches grow on trees. But a new blood vessel can only start working properly once the sprouting stage has finished.

Tumours hijack the body’s natural ability for healthy cells to grow new blood vessels, which they use to steal nutrients for growth and enable cancer cells to spread more easily.

The researchers have discovered for the first time that two molecules, rac and rho-kinase, oppose each other to control the balance between vessel sprouting and establishment .

These molecules are potential targets for anticancer drugs. Because they antagonise each other anticancer drugs would need to target both to work .

Dr Georgia Mavria, Cancer Research UK-funded study co-author at the ICR said: “We have worked out a key mechanism behind new blood vessel formation. This research will help scientists understand that they need to target both molecules to inhibit the process of new blood vessel formation in tumours, and potentially halt cancer growth and spread.”

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information, Cancer Research UK said: “Tumours can sprout their own blood vessels which provide them with the nutrients for growth as well as a route to spread to other parts of the body. This research is an important step towards understanding the process, and provides researchers with new approach on how to target tumour blood vessels . This brings new opportunities to develop drugs to beat cancer.”