Taking a discovery from the lab to the clinic is difficult work, but scientists at OMRF think they’re on the right track for developing a new anti-cancer treatment with their research on epsins.
Epsins are proteins that regulate the formation of blood vessels. OMRF scientist Hong Chen, Ph.D., is researching ways to remove or suppress the protein to slow cancer growth
The National Cancer Institute estimates more than 1.6 million Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer this year. Over the course of their lives, men have a 43 percent chance and women have a 38 percent chance of developing cancer. Of those, an estimated 20 percent will die from the disease.
“Just like other cells, cancer cells must be fed to grow,” she said. “Usually, that comes through blood vessels. In fact, the most aggressive cancers will create their own blood vessels through a process called angiogenesis.”
In Chen’s lab, they’ve observed that suppressing epsins causes an explosion of blood vessel growth, but that the newly created vessels won’t work. This leaves cancer cells without the ingredients necessary to grow, she said.
Working with mouse models of cancer, Chen and her team are testing epsin-suppression methods to find a possible therapeutic which could be used to “starve” tumors and stunt their growth.
The lab is also looking at other uses for their epsin discovery, including the creation of non-functional blood vessels as a kind of decoy for fat build-up in the arteries.
“When blood vessels become clogged with fat, that can lead to strokes, hemorrhaging or aneurysms,” she said. “It’s possible that we could find a way to divert some of the fat into these immature blood vessels, which would take it out of the blood flow.”
Though the research is still in its early stages, Chen said she’s interested in finding ways to translate their lab findings into new treatments for patients.
Their research is funded by grant no. R01HL093242 and R01HL118676 from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health, W81XWH-11-1-00226 from the Department of Defense, 8760002N from the American Heart Association, and HR09-116 and AR11-043 from Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.