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Bristol scientists discover new molecule that could prevent tumour growth

Scientists at Bristol University have discovered a new molecule that could prevent tumour growth.

Dr Dave Bates and Dr Steve Harper in the Microvascular Research Laboratories in the Department of Physiology, working in collaboration with clinicians at Southmead Hospital, have discovered a type of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) found in normal kidneys that has a different structure from that found in kidney cancer. The research findings will be published in the world's most prestigious scientific cancer journal, Cancer Research, today [15 July 2002].

This new form of VEGF, VEGF165b, has a different structure at the end of the molecule and is switched off in kidney cancer. It also seems to be able to inhibit at least three of the actions of VEGF on blood vessels: cell division, cell migration and the ability of blood vessels to widen.

The discovery of this new form of VEGF means that it could be possible to prevent tumour growth by starving the tumour using the body's own anti-cancer agent, VEGF165b. The advantage of using VEGF165b over established compounds to treat cancer is that VEGF165b is a natural molecule produced by the body under normal circumstances. Other chemical or antibody-based treatment to inhibit tumour vessel growth are all foreign proteins or molecules with unpredictable side effects.

The growth of any cancer depends on its ability to maintain a blood supply that will deliver nutrients. For a cancer to grow from the size of a pinhead to that of a golf-ball, the blood supply of the tumour has to grow with the expansion of the tumour itself. If the tumour outgrows its own blood supply, parts of it will begin to die. Many new cancer therapies are based on starving the tumour of nutrients by attacking the tumour blood supply rather than the cancer cells.

New blood vessel growth is also necessary for many normal body functions. These include the development of the embryo and, in adults, wound healing, the development of the placenta in pregnancy and of muscles during physical training programmes. However, it is thought that adults can live healthily without blood vessel growth for extended periods of time. This blood vessel growth is controlled by many factors, the most powerful of which is the protein, vascular endothelial growth factor.

Dr Bates and Dr Harper, said: "We are very excited by our discovery. The next aim of the research group is to determine if, and how, this new molecule might be useful as a treatment for cancer, vascular disease, arthritis and other diseases."

David O. Bates, Tai-Cen Gui, Joanne M. Doughty, Matthias Winkler, Marto Sugiono, Jacqueline D. Shields, Danielle Peat, David Gillatt, Steven J. Harper, 'VEGF165b - an inhibitory splice variant of vascular endothelial growth factor is downregulated in renal cell carcinoma'. Cancer Research, 15 July 2002 (Vol 62, Issue 14, pp 4123-4131).

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Copyright: 2001 The University of Bristol, UK
Updated: Wednesday, 17-Jul-2002 12:15:54 BST