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Microscopes Yield New Insight into Life and Death of Blood Vessels

By Jeffrey Norris, UCSF Today | July 10, 2006

Developing drugs that stop blood vessel growth in cancer -- causing tumors to shrink -- is a hot area in pharmaceuticals. Still, researchers and clinicians don't know as much as they would like about how these drugs work and why they work better in some tumor types than in others. Sometimes the drugs are effective by themselves, but in other tumors they must be used with chemotherapy or radiation.

Working with approved and experimental drugs, Donald McDonald, MD, PhD, a UCSF professor of anatomy and member of the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Cardiovascular Research Institute, has discovered clues to help understand these unusual features. By studying mice that spontaneously develop tumors, he is learning how newer drugs can destroy the blood vessels of tumors.

Clinical trial results are the bottom line in drug testing. But drug trials don't necessarily explain the biology underlying the clinical response. Moving from the scale of the whole organism to the single molecule requires increasingly powerful laboratory assays to detect telltale gene activity, enzymes and other molecules in prepared lab samples. Tests and experiments based on these methods can shed light on clinically important biochemical processes and events.

McDonald uses these assays, but he also knows that a microscope lens trained on cells of intact tissue can be a powerful tool.

(Note that in November 2007 the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center was renamed the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.)

Read more at Jeffrey Norris, UCSF Today