Study finds way to protect healthy cells from radiation damage

October 21, 2009

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, may be hot on the heels of a Holy Grail of cancer therapy: They have found a way to not only protect healthy tissue from the toxic effects of radiation treatment, but also increase tumor death. The findings appear today in Science Translational Medicine.

More than half of all cancer patients are treated at least in part with radiation, said study co-author Jeff S. Isenberg, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine, Pitt School of Medicine. But the same radiation that kills can also destroy healthy ones, causing side effects such as nausea and vomiting, skin sores and rashes, and weakness and fatigue. Long-term can lead to the scarring and death of normal tissue.

He and his NCI colleagues have identified a biochemical signaling pathway that can profoundly influence what happens to both cancerous and healthy cells when they are exposed to radiation. In mouse experiments, they found that blocking a molecule called thrombospondin-1 from binding to its cell surface receptor, called CD47, affords normal tissues nearly complete protection from both standard and very high doses of radiation.

"We almost couldn't believe what we were seeing," Dr. Isenberg said. "This dramatic protective effect occurred in skin, muscle and , which is very encouraging. Cells that might have died of radiation exposure remained viable and functional when pre-treated with agents that interfere with the thrombospondin-1/CD47 pathway."

There have been concerns that approaches to spare healthy cells will risk inadvertently protecting , noted senior author David D. Roberts, Ph.D., of the NCI's Center for Cancer Research. But, he added, "in our experiments, suppression of CD47 robustly delayed the regrowth of tumors in radiation-treated mice."

It's not yet clear why disrupting the CD47 signaling pathway leads to these effects, the researchers said. It's possible that impairs the immune response to tumors even while killing tumor cells, but suppression of CD47 keeps the immune cells safe. Decreasing CD47 levels on tumor cells also could make them more sensitive to attack by the patient's immune system after treatment. Or, suppression of injury to vascular cells might improve blood flow to allow naturally occurring anti-tumor immunity to reach cancer cells more easily.

The researchers are already exploring the signaling pathway's role in several other domains, noted Mark Gladwin, M.D., chief of Pitt's Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine and director of the Vascular Medicine Institute, where Dr. Isenberg is a principal investigator.

"Dr. Isenberg and his team are examining multiple disease treatment strategies for pulmonary hypertension, wound healing, sickle cell disease and heart attacks, based on the blockade of the thrombospondin-1/CD47 pathway," he said.

Source: University of Pittsburgh

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Five novel genetic changes linked to pancreatic cancer risk

February 21, 2018
In what is believed to be the largest pancreatic cancer genome-wide association study to date, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and the National Cancer Institute, and collaborators from over 80 other ...

Similarities found in cancer initiation in kidney, liver, stomach, pancreas

February 21, 2018
Recent research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis demonstrated that mature cells in the stomach sometimes revert back to behaving like rapidly dividing stem cells. Now, the researchers have found that ...

New technique predicts gene resistance to cancer treatments

February 21, 2018
Yale School of Public Health researchers have developed a new method to predict likely resistance paths to cancer therapeutics, and a methodology to apply it to one of the most frequent cancer-causing genes.

Genes activated in metastasis also drive the first stages of tumour growth

February 21, 2018
In spite of the difference between the cell functions responsible for giving rise to a tumour and that give rise to metastasis, studies at IRB Barcelona using the fly Drosophila melanogaster reveal that some genes can drive ...

Research could change how doctors treat leukemia and other cancers fed by fat

February 21, 2018
Obesity and cancer risk have a mysterious relationship, with obesity increasing the risk for 13 types of cancer. For some cancers—including pediatric cancers—obesity affects survival rates, which are lower for people ...

Researchers discover novel mechanism linking changes in mitochondria to cancer cell death

February 20, 2018
To stop the spread of cancer, cancer cells must die. Unfortunately, many types of cancer cells seem to use innate mechanisms that block cancer cell death, therefore allowing the cancer to metastasize. While seeking to further ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

CarolinaScotsman
3 / 5 (2) Oct 21, 2009
Is this discovery capable of protecting astronauts in space from harmful gamma ray radiation? It seems to me that the possible range of aplications for this is far greater than just cancer treatment. Everything from protecting nuclear workers in power palnts to immunizing populations against nuclear attack. Think what being immune to radiation could mean.
kshultz222_yahoo_com
1 / 5 (1) Oct 21, 2009
That is what I originally thought this article was about (space travelers vs. radiation). Obviously, keeping people alive on earth is more important (not many people go to space, but a lot get cancer), but maybe the technology will be useful in both areas.
E_L_Earnhardt
1 / 5 (1) Oct 22, 2009
The SURGEON'S SUCCESS in saving cancer patient's lives beats the chemist's! He is prone to flooding his "work area" with sterile water so he can see!
The WATER lowers ELECTRON concentration when siphoned away and ELECTRON ACTIVITY CAUSES CANCER!

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.