MGH study finds herceptin has additional antitumor qualities

Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have discovered powerful anti-angiogenic properties in herceptin, a monoclonal antibody used to fight certain forms of breast cancer. Herceptin is known to block the cell receptor HER2 on breast cancer cells and is used to treat women whose tumors produce extra copies of HER2, a more aggressive form of cancer. The new data show that herceptin also targets multiple factors secreted by cancer cells which maintain the tumor's blood supply. In the March 21 issue of Nature, researchers from the MGH Department of Radiation Oncology show that herceptin can reduce the diameter and volume of tumor blood vessels, slow tumor growth, and prolong survival in animal models of cancer.

"The beauty of this molecule is that it has multiple anti-angiogenic effects and so it acts like a cocktail of angiogenesis-blocking drugs," says Rakesh Jain, PhD, director of the Steele Laboratory for Tumor Biology, the report's senior author. Scientists and physicians have been trying for years to block a tumor's ability to secrete factors that create new blood vessels and allow cancer cells to gain access to fresh supplies of blood and oxygen. However, when one of these angiogenic factors is successfully blocked, the cancer cells can adapt and secrete other factors. Jain and his team have found that herceptin can effectively target at least five factors, thereby thwarting a number of the cancer cells' tactics.

The MGH research includes clues that the host -- the body in which a tumor grows -- also plays a role in herceptin's effects. Following herceptin treatments, tumor cells cultured in the laboratory expressed more of certain angiogenic factors and less of others compared with tumors treated in mice. "This shows that we need to understand the host better," says Jain. "We used to think of a tumor as a big bag of cancer cells separate from the host, but now we know that host cells are active participants in cancer pro

Contact: Sue McGreevey
Massachusetts General Hospital

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