New Molecule Starves Cancer Cells, Makes Tumors Vanish

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 3, 2001 -- Researchers have developed a molecule that launches an attack right at the core of a tumor, leaving dead cancer cells in its tracks.

Called 'icon,' the molecule is able to kill the cells that make up the tumor's blood vessels and thus starve the tumor. The scientists were able to formulate icon so that it would strike only at the tumor's blood supply in mice but not at the rest of the mice's blood supply.

Targeting the blood supply of tumors as a way of knocking out their access to oxygen and nutrients has been very popular in medical research in the last several years. However, many attempts at this have failed, and researchers have been unable to come up with a plan that would actually work in humans.

But Zhiwei Hu and Alan Garen from the department of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University have developed a plan that works wonders in mice, and they are hoping it can do the same for people. Their plan differs from previous attempts because they have developed a process for killing existing blood vessels in tumors rather than preventing new ones.

First, the researchers injected mice with prostate cancer cells from a human. This formed a skin tumor in the mice that acts much like prostate cancer in men. The icon molecule was then injected directly into the skin tumor. The researchers engineered the process so that tumor cells made more icon and released it into the blood.

Amazingly, not only did the skin tumor itself disappear, but tumors that had formed far away from the skin tumor also vanished.

The researchers were able to produce equally good results when using melanoma skin cancers as well. Their results appear in the Oct. 9 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But as previous research in this and many other fields has shown, good results in mice don't mean that you'll get anywhere close to that response in humans.

So, what's the next step to even find out if icon can do the same in humans?

The first step is to get the FDA to approve using icon in humans. Once that happens, researchers can start testing it in humans. Plans are already in the works to test icon on melanoma in humans once given the go ahead.

Researchers are hoping that icon will work in many different types of tumors since cutting of the blood supply should produce the same effect regardless of the tumor type.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD
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