Year of selection 2012
Institution VIB vzw - University of Leuven
As of today, aging and its associated progressive loss of physical integrity remains the prime risk factor in cancer development. As refined parasites, developing tumors hijack the vascular system of their hosts in order to promote their own growth. Prof. Peter Carmeliet aims to explore this from a rather novel angle. Indeed, a large number of cancer therapies inhibit the creation of new blood vessels caused by chemicals released from tumors; however, these strategies are reaching their limits. In particular, they present serious side effects, such as toxicity and resistance incurred by patients. Carmeliet suggests reversing the process: what if, instead of starving tumors by blocking their blood stock, we starved the blood vessels themselves by cutting off their power supply?
The idea is daring and risky. However, Carmeliet’s team has been leading research in the field of vascular biology for the past 18 years, and their expertise will be much needed in this pioneering investigation. The energy usage of blood vessels has been very poorly studied. In fact, very little is known about the cells that line the inside of blood vessels. It is only known that, despite being in a prime position for accessing the oxygen that circulates in the blood, these specialized cells prefer to use anaerobic (oxygen-less) chemistry to generate energy. This very bizarre behavior may allow these cells to proliferate in non-vascularized areas – thereby letting tumors run wild with blood vessel proliferation (angiogenesis).
In consequence, better insights into energy supply to blood vessels and into the conditions which favor their proliferation are crucial to help design new strategies to block energy pathways. Thus starved, the blood vessels would no longer respond to the signals emitted by tumors, thereby accelerating the latter's isolation and inescapable death. The project is extremely challenging. However, with the support of Carmeliet’s interdisciplinary team working in a very international environment using emerging technologies, it might open paths to entirely new therapeutic strategies for fighting the ever-growing plague of cancer.
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