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Study Reveals a Key to Blood Vessel Growth and Possible Drug Target

By Jennifer O'Brien, UCSF News Services | October 14, 2007

Researchers have identified a molecular pathway that plays a critical role in the growth of blood vessels. The finding not only offers an important insight into the development of the vascular system during embryonic development but suggests a potential target for inhibiting the blood vessels that fuel cancers, diabetic eye complications and atherosclerosis, the researchers say.

The study, published online on Oct. 14 in "Nature Genetics." was conducted in the zebrafish, the tiny, blue-and-silver striped denizen of India's Ganges River and many an aquarium.

A "News and Views" commentary on the paper will run in the same issue.

"We expect this finding will offer important insights into blood vessel formation in humans," says lead author Massimo Santoro, PhD, UCSF visiting postdoctoral fellow in the lab of senior author Didier Stainier, PhD, UCSF professor of biochemistry and biophysics. "The zebrafish has proven to be an important model for discovering molecules relevant to human disease."

Angiogenesis, or the growth of blood vessels, is active not only during embryonic development but throughout the life of the body, providing a source of oxygenated blood to tissues damaged by wounds.

However, it is also active in a number of disease processes, including cancer. Without a blood supply, tumors cannot grow beyond the size of a small pea. Cancerous tumors release chemical signals into their environment that stimulate healthy blood vessels to sprout new vessels that then extend into the tumors. During the last decade, scientists have identified several molecules that promote angiogenesis. A drug that inhibits these molecules is now commercially available and others are being studied in clinical trials.

Read more at Jennifer O'Brien, UCSF News Services