The cells that line blood vessels, called endothelial cells, regulate blood flow to tissues. At least, that’s what everyone thought until recently. Now researchers know that endothelial cells do much more and may even be harnessed for their power to stop cancer.
In a study published this week, researchers used endothelial cells to slow cancer growth in mice. In the 1980s, researchers realized endothelial cells did much more than serve as gatekeepers of blood flow. The cells influence the behavior of blood vessels, blood clotting, tissue repair and inflammation by releasing certain proteins.
Scientists at MIT and Harvard explored the idea that endothelial cells might also influence cancer growth because tumors rely on a blood supply to grow. In mice, they used secretions from endothelial cells to slow the growth and aggressiveness of cancerous tumors, also identifying the particular molecules in these secretions that were involved in the process.
The technology will be tested in humans, said the lead author of the study, Elazer Edelman, of the MIT-Harvard division of health sciences and technology. The treatment may boost the success of drugs that stop the growth of new blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis.
“The blood vessels feed the tumor but their endothelial cells control the cancer cells within,” Edelman said. “Giving the endothelial cells without the blood vessels provides the best of both worlds and perhaps one day could provide a new means of cancer therapy.”