Life-threatening tumours are fed by the uncontrolled growth of blood vessels within them that allows them to thrive – and to halt disease-fighting cells in their tracks. Reversing or re-arranging the growth of these vessels in combination with specific immune strategies is a promising new strategy for cancer therapy, says Ruth Ganss, Professor at the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research, Perth, at the 2nd European Congress of Immunology ECI 2009 held in Berlin.
Currently, a lot of research effort goes into attempts to kill tumour vessels. Once tumour vessels are killed tumours grow slower. Ganss’ approach is novel in a way that she and her co-workers postulate that by remodelling tumour vessels as opposed of killing them, they make tumours more accessible for therapy. Their goal is to develop combination therapies where they activate immune cells and simultaneously change the tumour vessels to improve access by immune cells and ultimately tumour destruction.
“Our laboratory has identified several ways to interfere with growth of blood vessels in a tumour, a process called angiogenesis, and thus to improve therapy”, says Ganss.
For instance, the scientists have described a master gene that occurs in blood vessels within tumours. By removing this gene in mice, they have been able to reverse the process of angiogenesis so that tumour blood vessels appear more normal. “Importantly, this normalisation changes the tumour environment in a way that improves immune cell entry, meaning tumours can be destroyed”, Ganss stresses. In laboratory tests using mice, this resulted in dramatically improved survival rates.
The scientists also made use of the characteristics of the abnormal tumour vessels which provided them with a “homing address” to direct inflammatory factors into tumours. These factors then change the tumour vessels and activate them in a way that barriers are broken down and immune cells can enter the tumour and do a better job.
Materials provided by Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Immunologie e.V./German Society for Immunology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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