Tumors' do-it-yourself blood vessels

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Science  17 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6292, pp. 1381-1383
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6292.1381

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More than a decade ago, a team led by Mary Hendrix, then of the University of Iowa, Iowa City, reported an unusual, seemingly new way through which tumor cells can tap into the blood supply and obtain nutrients. Researchers knew at the time that tumors can induce normal endothelial cells to form new blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis. But Hendrix and her colleagues contended that tumor cells themselves sometimes create their own blood-delivering tubes, a mechanism they dubbed vasculogenic mimicry (also known as vascular mimicry). The idea was immediately controversial but Hendrix and others have since pieced together a picture of how tumors build their own blood vessels and how they can affect prognosis and treatment. Now, the idea faces another big test. The first clinical trial of a drug to block vasculogenic mimicry—and thus potentially limit tumor growth—has begun in the United States and Taiwan. If the drug succeeds, it wouldn't just bolster what Hendrix and other researchers have been saying about these do-it-yourself blood vessels for the last 16 years. It might also explain why some of the most-hyped drugs in cancer therapy—angiogenesis inhibitors—have underperformed.