Researchers identify Achilles heel of common childhood tumor

October 19, 2008

Researchers have discovered a mechanism for the rapid growth seen in infantile hemangioma, the most common childhood tumor.

The tumors, which are made up of proliferating blood vessels, affect up to 10 percent of children of European descent, with girls more frequently afflicted than boys. The growths appear within days of birth—most often as a single, blood-red lump on the head or face—then grow rapidly in the ensuing months. The development of infantile hemangioma slows later in childhood, and most tumors disappear entirely by the end of puberty. However, while the tumors are benign, they can cause disfigurement or clinical complications. This new research offers hope for the most severe of these cases, pointing at a potential, non-invasive treatment for the condition.

These findings, the result of a collaboration between scientists from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Children's Hospital Boston, and the de Duve Institute at the Catholique University of Louvain in Brussels, will be published October 19 in Nature Medicine.

In this study, researchers looked at tissue isolated from nine distinct hemangioma tumors. They found that the endothelial cells that lined the affected blood vessels were all derived from the same abnormal cell. Like other tumors, hemangiomas are caused by the abnormal proliferation of tissue. Since no other type of cell within the tissue displayed the same self-replicating tendency, the scientists concluded that the endothelial cells were the source of the tumors' growth.

Looking further, the team discovered that the endothelial cells behaved as if they were activated by a hormone called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). VEGF usually binds to a specific receptor, one that sits on the outskirts of the cell and prevents VEGF from telling the cell to proliferate. However, the researchers found that at least two gene mutations were capable of setting off a chain of events that ultimately stymied those receptors. That allowed VEGF to trigger unchecked growth in the endothelial cells.

These findings open up new treatment options, according to study leader Bjorn R. Olsen, the Hersey Professor of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Developmental Biology and Dean for Research at Harvard School of Dental Medicine. "What the data suggests is that any therapy that is directed against vascular endothelial growth factor – anti-VEGF therapy – is the rational therapy to use in these tumors," says Olsen.

This will be good news to the many children and families affected by the disorder. Though most cases have little impact on children's lives and many cases even go unnoticed, Olsen estimates that 10 percent of infantile hemangioma sufferers experience significant side-effects. These can include psychological stress brought on by the social challenges of disfigurement, as well as physical complications caused by large, badly-placed tumors that obstruct vision, respiration, or other bodily functions.

Anti-VEGF therapies have already been approved for other conditions, including macular degeneration and certain types of cancer. The next step for Olsen's team is to get approval to test these therapies in clinical trials.

Meanwhile, Olsen and his colleagues continue to mine these tumors for more answers. "After finding out why these tumors grow, we are now starting to direct our research at understanding why they regress," he said. "Knowing that and being able to induce that regression in the rapidly growing tumors, or induce regression of the blood vessels in malignant tumors, would be very effective."

Source: Harvard Medical School

Explore further: Human lung-on-a-chip technology used to study behavior, drug responses of lung cancer in its natural environment

Related Stories

Human lung-on-a-chip technology used to study behavior, drug responses of lung cancer in its natural environment

October 10, 2017
Cancer researchers have come to understand that generating human tumors in mice by injecting cancer cell lines under the skin does not recapitulate how tumors normally emerge and spread to specific organs in the human body, ...

New combination drug controls tumor growth and metastasis in mice

July 15, 2014
Researchers at UC Davis, University of Massachusetts and Harvard Medical School have created a combination drug that controls both tumor growth and metastasis. By combining a COX-2 inhibitor, similar to Celebrex, and an epoxide ...

Scientists find way to reduce ovarian cancer tumors, chemo doses

November 13, 2014
In a potential breakthrough against ovarian cancer, University of Guelph researchers have discovered how to both shrink tumours and improve drug delivery, allowing for lower doses of chemotherapy and reducing side effects.

Scientists identify a key molecule that blocks abnormal blood vessel growth in tumors

September 21, 2011
A new and better understanding of blood vessel growth and vascular development (angiogenesis) in cancer has been made possible by research carried out by a team of scientists from Moffitt Cancer Center, the University of ...

Connecting the dots between insulin resistance, unhealthy blood vessels and cancer

May 1, 2017
Over the decades, scientists have repeatedly shown that patients with increased levels of the hormone insulin in their blood can experience increased risks of cancer. Surprisingly, however, Joslin Diabetes Center researchers ...

Vascular simulation research reveals new mechanism that switches in disease

May 7, 2014
Blood vessel formation is critical to life and its manipulation is instrumental to a number of diseases. For more than 40 years, investigations into the structure and function of endothelial cells lining the blood vessels ...

Recommended for you

CAR-T immunotherapy may help blood cancer patients who don't respond to standard treatments

October 20, 2017
Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is one of the first centers nationwide to offer a new immunotherapy that targets certain blood cancers. Newly approved ...

Researchers pinpoint causes for spike in breast cancer genetic testing

October 20, 2017
A sharp rise in the number of women seeking BRCA genetic testing to evaluate their risk of developing breast cancer was driven by multiple factors, including celebrity endorsement, according to researchers at the University ...

Study shows how nerves drive prostate cancer

October 19, 2017
In a study in today's issue of Science, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, part of Montefiore Medicine, report that certain nerves sustain prostate cancer growth by triggering a switch that causes tumor vessels ...

Gene circuit switches on inside cancer cells, triggers immune attack

October 19, 2017
Researchers at MIT have developed a synthetic gene circuit that triggers the body's immune system to attack cancers when it detects signs of the disease.

One to 10 mutations are needed to drive cancer, scientists find

October 19, 2017
For the first time, scientists have provided unbiased estimates of the number of mutations needed for cancers to develop, in a study of more than 7,500 tumours across 29 cancer types. Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger ...

Researchers target undruggable cancers

October 19, 2017
A new approach to targeting key cancer-linked proteins, thought to be 'undruggable," has been discovered through an alliance between industry and academia.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

E_L_Earnhardt
not rated yet Oct 19, 2008
CYROABLATION!
deepsand
not rated yet Oct 20, 2008
Wow, this is clearly a MAJOR breakthrough.

Jiff

SPAMMER

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.