British scientists have discovered a new way to target cancer through manipulating a master switch responsible for cancer cell growth. The findings, published Monday in the U.S. journal Cancer Cell, reveal how cancer cells grow faster by producing their own blood vessels.
Cancer cells gain the nutrients they need by producing proteins that make blood vessels grow, helping deliver oxygen and sugars to the tumor. These proteins are vascular growth factors like VEGF -- the target for the anti-cancer drug Avastin. Making these proteins requires the slotting together of different parts of genes, a process called splicing.
Scientists at the University of West England and the University of Bristol discovered that mutations in one specific cancer gene can control how splicing is balanced, allowing a master switch in the cell to be turned on. This master switch of splicing makes cancer cells grow faster, and blood vessels to grow more quickly, as they alter how VEGFs are put together.
In experimental models, the researchers found that by using new drugs that block this master switch they prevented blood vessel growth and stopped the growth of cancers.
"The research clearly demonstrates that it may be possible to block tumor growth by targeting and manipulating alternative splicing in patients, adding to the increasingly wide armory of potential anti-cancer therapies," the authors said.