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Copper may play role in 'starving' cancer to standstill

COLLEGE STATION -- Starving a cancerous tumor of its blood supply might stop its growth while other treatments aim to kill it.

"Nutrient depletion" is how Dr. Ed Harris, Texas A&M University biochemist, describes the process in the February issue of Nutrition Reviews. His article traces how independent studies around the world led researchers to consider copper, a trace mineral in the human diet, for its potential in controlling cancerous growth.

"The idea is to deprive a selective nutrient from being active in tumors. In research so far, there is no indication of anyone being cured, but tumors have stopped growing," said Harris, who is an expert on the relation of copper in various human diseases. "Ultimately, nutrient depletion may be used in combination with other treatments."

The role of copper to control cancer traces its beginnings to Dr. Judah Folkman of the Harvard School of Medicine, whose pioneering work in angiogenesis, or the formation of new blood cells, began about 40 years ago but only since the 1980s have been recognized in medical research. Folkman first launched the idea that if a tumor is to grow, it must have its own blood supply, Harris said.

"For one increment of tumor growth, Folkman said, there also must be one increment of capillary or vessel growth," Harris noted. "And that was shocking."

But that astonishing notion led some researchers to explore ways to stop the capillary growth that nourished tumors. About the same time, other researchers were examining the role of copper in forming blood vessels.

To test a theory of whether copper was instrumental in blood vessel formation, scientists needed an organ that had none. They found that in the cornea of rabbit's eyes. Small pellets of copper were implanted into rabbit corneas, and soon vessels formed around them, the biochemist noted.

Then came the idea that if copper was needed to create blood vessels, and if blood vessels were necessary
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Contact: Kathleen Phillips
ka-phillips@tamu.edu
979-845-2872
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications
11-Feb-2004


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