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Instead of starving a cancer, researchers go after its defenses

Oxygen deprivation can propel tumor growth and spread

12:32pm, February 22, 2017
cancer cells

OXYGEN DEPRIVATION  Cancer cells (shown in blue) surround a blood vessel (red) in a mouse tumor. Cells on the tumor’s edge are dying, starved of oxygen. But treatments to starve tumors have come up short.

Like many living things, a cancer cell cannot survive without oxygen. When young and tiny, a malignancy nestles inside a bed of blood vessels that keep it fed. As the mass grows, however, its demand for oxygen outpaces supply. Pockets within the tumor become deprived and send emergency signals for new vessel growth, a process called angiogenesis. In the 1990s, a popular cancer-fighting theory proposed interfering with angiogenesis to starve tumors to death. One magazine writer in 2000 called the strategy “the most important single insight about cancer of the past 50 years.” It made such intuitive sense.

Rakesh Jain viewed angiogenesis through a different lens. Trained as an engineer, not a biologist, Jain was studying tumor vasculature during the height of excitement about drugs that could impede vessel growth. He was bothered by the fact that capillaries that arise in the tumor aren’t normal; they’re gnarled and porous,

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