In the July issue of Cancer Cell, the scientists explain how cancer tumor cells attach themselves to a protein on the surface of cells lining blood vessel walls. When this attachment happens, it tells the cancer cell to grow and develop blood vessels, which feed the cell.
Cun-Yu Wang, senior author on the paper, said this discovery could help in the fight against cancer.
"The blood supply is key for tumor growth and tumor development," said Wang, the Richard H. Kingery Endowed Collegiate Professor at the U-M School of Dentistry. "If you cut off the blood supply, you stop cancer development."
Wang collaborated with researchers Qinghua Zeng, Shenglin Li, Douglas B. Chepeha, Jong Li, Honglai Zhang, Peter J. Polverini, Jacques Nor and Jan Kitajewski on the paper.
Scientists have heavily studied cancer cells' secretion of proteins to form blood vessels. But Wang said when researchers tried to turn off that process, some tumors responded and some did not, which left him curious about how to develop a better treatment.
Rather than simply looking for a better way to interrupt the protein secretion, Wang and colleagues looked for other ways that tumor cells might develop their blood supply, a process called angiogenesis.
Wang's team has studied hepatocyte growth factor, known as HGF, to better understand its function in the formation of cancerous tumors in the head and neck. Part of what HGF does is to get neighboring blood vessels to grow toward, and then into, the tumor.
What they did not know was how HGF got the process of angiogenesis started, said Zeng, first author on the paper and a research fellow at U-M.
So they looked at head and neck cancer cells to see if growth factors prompted the release of proteins related to angiog
Contact: Colleen Newvine
University of Michigan