Researchers from the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology in Belgium say they have found a way to repair dysfunctional blood vessels which allow cancer cells to escape from the blood stream and reach other organs, and which play a vital role in cancer metastasis.
In a study published in Cancer Cell, researchers describe how they manipulated the blood vessel cells’ sugar metabolism to create a healthy blood vessel network, prevent the spread of cancer cells, and deliver chemotherapy drugs more efficiently to the tumor.
Because blood vessel cells in tumors need to divide quickly, they consume a lot of sugar. Consequently, the blood vessel cells’ sugar metabolism gets overheated, making them fragile and dysfunctional.
As the vessels become weaker, it gets easier for cancer cells to infiltrate them and spread to other organs that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get to. Irregular vessels also prevent the smooth delivery of chemotherapy drugs.
Traditional cancer therapies aim to prevent new tumor blood vessels from forming and destroy existing vessels. Instead, the team led by professor Peter Carmeliet, focused on restoring and normalizing the impaired vessels.
“Therapies that destroy tumor vessels are not always effective. In some cases, patients even show resistance to these drugs. So when we investigated the root of the problem, we were pleased to see that dysfunctional vessels are very susceptible to drugs blocking their sugar metabolisms, precisely because their sugar engines are so overheated,” Carmeliet said. “Our study proves that we could neutralize this out-of-control sugar consumption with a small molecule compound, thereby healing the impaired tumor vessels.”
This process of repair could aid not only the delivery of chemotherapy, the team suggests, but also immunotherapy.
“Our study also shows that healthy tumor vessels ensure a better delivery of chemotherapeutic agents to the tumor. In addition, they could improve the supply of immune cells as well. This is very important, because many emerging cancer therapies directly address the body’s immune system. That is why we are already planning to investigate the effects of tumor vessel normalization therapy with immunotherapy. In this way, we are getting closer to identifying more targeted and specific treatments in the fight against cancer.”