Repairing tumors

Imagine this conversation with your doctor:

Your poor tumor. It has a chaotic blood supply. Parts of it get too much blood, other parts too little. We’re going to give you a drug to improve your tumor’s blood supply, making it healthier.

Before you run screaming from your doctor’s office, see if there’s a copy of the January 2008 issue of Scientific American in the waiting room. If there is, read the article Taming Vessels to Treat Cancer by Rakesh Jain.

Just as the cells in a tumor are abnormal and growing out of control, so are the blood vessels that feed the tumor. This lack of proper infrastructure inhibits the tumor’s growth, but it also makes it difficult to deliver chemotherapy to the tumor. This lead to the radical idea to make the tumors healthier in preparation for killing them.

So how would you go about improving a tumor’s circulatory system? By administering a drug that was designed to attack tumor vessels!

A new class of cancer drugs, antiangiogenic agents, has been designed to attack tumors by cutting off their blood supply. These agents haven’t been a complete success. Experience with one such agent, Avastin, shows that while it shuts down some of the blood vessels in tumors, it may make the remaining tumor vessels healthier. That’s bad news if you’re treating patients with Avastin alone. But when used in combination with chemotherapy, it’s just what people like Dr. Jain were looking for: a way to normalize the blood flow in a tumor in order to make it more vulnerable to chemotherapy.

More information, including videos, is available at the web site of Dr. Jain’s lab.

Related: Adaptive clinical trial design

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