A molecule previously thought to promote cancer may in some circumstances play a part in slowing it down, according to research published online in Nature this week. The findings reveal that the biology of this system is much more complicated than originally thought.
Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a molecule that helps cancer to grow its own blood supply and it has been linked to cancer progression. Randall Johnson and colleagues deleted VEGF production in certain cell types but not others. Unexpectedly, they find that this deletion actually accelerates rather than slows tumour growth in mice. This is in contrast with tumours that lack VEGF altogether, which grow more slowly without a blood supply. The findings reveal the importance of these cell types in regulating the tumour blood vessel network and controlling tumour growth.
In a related paper, David Cheresh and colleagues find that VEGF specifically inhibits the stabilisation of blood vessels as they grow. Together, the research demonstrates the complex role of VEGF in orchestrating blood vessel formation. The implications of this work for therapies that target VEGF are not known, although they have already proven successful in many cases.