There’s no cure for cancer, but a recent discovery may make treatment more effective. A new study conducted by Masanobu Komatsu, Ph.D., an associate professor at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, and other researchers found a molecule that enhances the tumor vessel maturation process—a discovery that might provide a method for improving cancer drug delivery.
In order to thrive, malignant tumors need blood to provide them with nutrients and oxygen and thus, have to stimulate new blood vessel growth. This process is known as angiogensis. Until now, the focus for treating cancer has been to interrupt angiogensis in order to starve off tumors. However, tumor cells are known to adapt and survive in nutrient and oxygen-deprived environments and this process is also known to result in deformed or immature blood vessels. Since anti-cancer treatments are carried to tumors by the bloodstream, Dr. Komatsu believes it is imperative that blood vessels mature properly; otherwise, these malignant tumors may never receive the treatment intended for them.
Although this concept was proposed several years ago, researchers did not have a way of making it a reality until the discovery of a new protein, known as R-Ras. This protein is found at high levels in normal, mature blood vessels. Tumor blood vessels, on the other hand, usually have very low R-Ras levels since they are immature. To examine the importance of R-Ras in tumor vessel maturation, Komatsu and his team studied the effects of boosting the protein in mice. Dr. Komatsu was quoted as saying, "We found that if we introduce R-Ras there, we are able to normalize the blood vessel in the tumor environment—improving vessel structure and function."