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Scientists are looking for a way to cut off melanoma’s escape routes

Posted January 4, 2019

Melanoma is an extremely dangerous cancer, which spreads quickly and is relatively hard to treat. One of the more effective strategies would be to stop cancer from spreading, making its presence a bit more local and, therefore, easier to treat. But how do you achieve that? Scientists from the University of Queensland say that it could be as simple as cutting cancer‘s escape routes – blocking its blood supply.

A gene, which is typically associated with red hair, pale skin and freckles was linked to a higher number of genetic mutations in skin cancers. Image credit: Joe Mabel via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Cancer spreads through blood. Rogue cancer cells get detached and start flowing freely in body’s blood supply. They travel through various blood vessels until they reach the end of their journey in some other part of the body, where they can settle. There they form another tumour, which continuous to destroy the patient’s health and can eventually kill them.

This is all due to a fact that tumours actually grow their own blood vessels thanks to particular stem cells that were now discovered by scientists. Researchers say that turning these stem cells off could essentially cut off cancer’s escape routes.

Stopping blood vessels from forming in tumours would be a huge achievement. Without blood supply tumours cannot grow. They also can’t start sending cancer cells to other parts of the body. Scientists say that blocking blood vessels from forming would be especially effective in early stages of cancer for people who have been recently diagnosed.

In fact, this idea has been discussed for a while, but blocking blood vessels from forming is very difficult, because formation of blood vessels is a natural response to injury – we cannot just learn not to grow new blood vessels. Scientists believe that these newly discovered stem cells could allow targeting blood vessels in tumours without affecting the rest of the body.

Stem cells for blood vessels in the tumour, allowing it to grow and spread to other parts of the body. Image credit: Wikimedia

Now scientists will test one compound, which could prevent these stem cells from forming blood vessels in tumours. This would be very useful in treating melanomas, because they spread so quickly. Dr Jatin Patel, one of the authors of the study, said: “We know that before tumours spread to places like lymph nodes or lungs, the body starts growing extra blood vessels in these areas – almost as if preparing special ‘niches’ for the cancer. Our next study will focus on blocking the development of these niches. If the body doesn’t prepare them, then the cancer won’t grow there”.

Stopping cancer from spreading would result in more effective treatments as well as improve outcomes. In itself, this technique would not be a cure, but in early stages it could help making huge progress towards successful recovery.

Source: University of Queensland


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