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Going to 'Wars' against cancer, heart disease

Uncovered gene may provide target for new therapies

July 8, 2016
Duke-NUS Medical School
The gene Wars2 has been found to be involved in angiogenesis -- blood vessel formation, which is important in ensuring that all parts of the body get nutrients to sustain life -- report scientists. Rats and zebrafish where Wars2 was inhibited had impaired blood vessel formation. Treatments for cancer and diabetic eye disease may be developed to target Wars2 and inhibit blood vessel formation, they explain.

In a study conducted by Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) and the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), researchers discovered a new gene that controls blood vessel formation. This work presents a possible new drug target for cancer and heart disease, and was published in the journal, Nature Communications, on 8 July 2016.

Blood vessels form a network throughout the body to deliver the nutrients necessary to keep the tissues and organs alive and healthy. The formation of this network is controlled by a process called angiogenesis. Angiogenesis inhibition is commonly targeted in cancer treatment development that aims to starve tumours of the nutrients necessary for their survival. In the heart, increasing angiogenesis can help heart pump function.

For the first time, a team led by Professor Stuart Cook at Duke-NUS, uncovered a role for the gene, Wars2, in the process of angiogenesis. Mr Mao Wang, PhD student at Duke-NUS, is co-first author of the study alongside Dr Patrick Sips, Associate Scientist from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Together, they confirmed the importance of Wars2 for angiogenesis in rats and zebrafish.

"Using different genetic techniques, we inhibited Wars2 function in both rats and zebrafish, and the resulting animals showed impairment of blood vessel formation within the heart and in the rest of the body," described Mr Wang.

To confirm the involvement of Wars2 in angiogenesis, the researchers increased the effect of Wars2 and showed that blood vessel formation was enhanced. Specifically, they were able to determine that Wars2 plays an important role in supplying sufficient endothelial cells, the building blocks of blood vessels, for angiogenesis.

"Angiogenesis is vital for supporting life and providing nutrients to all parts of the body," said Prof Cook, Tanoto Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre. "Finding a way to control angiogenesis not only provides a target for the development of anti-cancer therapies, but may also prove useful in similarly starving abnormal blood vessel growth elsewhere in the body, like in diabetic eye disease." Prof Cook is also the Director of the Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases Research Programme at Duke-NUS.

Ultimately, Wars2 provides researchers and pharmaceutical companies a fresh new target for developing treatments for diseases characterized by abnormal blood vessel growth that may be more effective and specific or complementary to what is currently available.

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Materials provided by Duke-NUS Medical School. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Mao Wang, Patrick Sips, Ester Khin, Maxime Rotival, Ximing Sun, Rizwan Ahmed, Anissa Anindya Widjaja, Sebastian Schafer, Permeen Yusoff, Pervinder Kaur Choksi, Nicole Shi Jie Ko, Manvendra K. Singh, David Epstein, Yuguang Guan, Josef Houštěk, Tomas Mracek, Hana Nuskova, Brittney Mikell, Jessie Tan, Francesco Pesce, Frantisek Kolar, Leonardo Bottolo, Massimiliano Mancini, Norbert Hubner, Michal Pravenec, Enrico Petretto, Calum MacRae, Stuart A Cook. Wars2 is a determinant of angiogenesis. Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 12061 DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS12061

Cite This Page:

Duke-NUS Medical School. "Going to 'Wars' against cancer, heart disease: Uncovered gene may provide target for new therapies." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 July 2016. <>.
Duke-NUS Medical School. (2016, July 8). Going to 'Wars' against cancer, heart disease: Uncovered gene may provide target for new therapies. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 26, 2017 from
Duke-NUS Medical School. "Going to 'Wars' against cancer, heart disease: Uncovered gene may provide target for new therapies." ScienceDaily. (accessed May 26, 2017).