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Potential new approach to blocking melanoma vascularization identified

Researchers have identified a type of stem cell in melanoma tumours that form blood vessels, and have also developed a method to stop the cells from doing so—findings that could lead to new techniques to stop melanoma growth and metastasis.

The findings were published online in Nature Communications (Jan. 3, 2019).

“Blood vessels are vital because tumours can’t grow without them—they feed the tumours and allow the cancer to spread,” said senior author Professor Kiarash Khosrotehrani in a press release from The University of Queensland, Australia. “If you get rid of these stem cells, then the blood vessels don’t form and the tumours don’t grow or spread to other locations.”

Dr. Khosrotehrani is an associate professor at The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute, faculty of medicine.

In the release, Dr. Khosrotehrani said that while the idea of blocking blood vessel development to treat recently diagnosed cancer has been around for some time, doing so has been challenging, as blood vessel formation is a fundamental mechanism by which the body responds to injury.

“Directly targeting the stem cells that form these blood vessels is a new approach that could make the difference,” he said.

The research team plans to test the ability of a compound to stop these stem cells from forming blood vessels, in a study supported by funding from Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Another researcher on the team, Jatin Patel, PhD, a research fellow at The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute, said the ability of melanoma to quickly spread from the skin to other parts of the body is a characteristic of the disease that makes it so deadly.

“We know that before tumours spread to places like lymph nodes or lungs, the body starts growing extra blood vessels in these areas—almost as if preparing special ‘niches’ for the cancer,” Dr. Patel said.

“Our next study will focus on blocking the development of these niches. If the body doesn’t prepare them, then the cancer won’t grow there.”

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