Microcirculation & Cellular Biophysics

Tumour-taming Idea Circulating at Western

CANCER FIGHT: More blood flow to heart may limit disease's spread

By Jonathan Sher, The London Free Press

March 1, 2012


Dr. Geoffrey PickeringIt's core to our beliefs about treating cancer -- that tumors can be controlled by cutting off their source of blood.

Now, a London doctor has set out to turn science on its head.

Dr. Geoffrey Pickering thinks feeding tumors may limit their spread, and he plans to test that theory with tools he's used as a cardiologist to improve blood flow to the heart.

If his idea is correct, it might revolutionize how cancer is treated.

"A key reason why cancer exerts its deadly toll is because it can spread to different organs," said Pickering, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Western University. "The concept of deliberately improving the blood supply to a tumour may sound counterintuitive, but we believe it has real potential to stop the tumour from spreading -- to render it non-aggressive."

It was 40 years ago scientists began to gain a better understanding of how cancer cells create their own blood supply, attracting cells that form blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis.

In recent years, millions of dollars have been spent creating drugs such as Avastin that inhibit angiogenesis. But the result hasn't been as successful as had been hoped -- a recent trial for breast cancer, for example, didn't advance.

"It certainly isn't the cure some people thought it might be," said Lynne-Marie Postovit, a cancer and stem-cell biologist at Western.

Reducing blood flow might limit tumour growth, but it sometimes made cancer cells more aggressive and prone to spread, research found.

So Pickering thought about trying the opposite approach. Tumours create abnormal blood vessels that are prone to leaking and don't deliver as much blood as do normal vessels, so he wondered about borrowing methods from cardiology to increase blood flow and normalize those vessels.

Pickering and his team will test the theory on mice with various types of cancers, including breast, lung, brain, and colon. They'll observe blood flow in the mice to determine if the "overfed" tumours become "calm" and don't spread to other organs.

There are other potential benefits to that method.

"By opening up the blood supply, cancer drugs may be able to reach the entire tumour and thus be more effective. As well, radiation therapy works better when tumours receive a good amount of oxygen through the blood," Pickering said.

His grant of is one of 23 from the Canadian Cancer Society's first-ever Innovation Grants. The goal of the program is to support unconventional concepts, approaches or methodologies to address problems in cancer research.

That a heart doctor is doing the research may seem odd to some, but his newness to cancer care may prove to be a benefit, Postovit said.

"When you come from a different field, you may come in with less of a bias," she said.




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