Scientists at Karolinska Institutet have now discovered a new mechanism involved in the formation of blood vessels that they say could become an important target in cancer and cardiovascular diseases, among others.
In the past five years drugs that encourage or prevent the formation of blood vessels have had an increasing impact in the treatment of cancer and heart disease. While most of these are based on a different target VEGF (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor) they prove that this type of intervention is effective.
VEGF controls several important functions during the formation of blood vessels by signalling via receptors on the surface of the endothelial cells, the specialised layer of cells on the interior surface of the blood vessels.
Scientists at Karolinska Institutet working with the biotech company AngioGenetics AB have now shown that another factor called Dll4 (Delta-like 4) has a similarly fundamental role in blood vessel formation. They say that Dll4 is just as important a target for anti-angiogenic drugs as VEGF.
“We can now develop ways of boosting the effect of existing anti-angiogenic therapies, and maybe we can even start to treat tumour types that do not currently respond to anti-angiogenic drugs,” says Mats Hellström, one of the scientists involved in the study.
The researchers have found that Dll4 signalling determines how many ‘sprouts’ bud off from the parent blood vessel. This principle is critical to the number of branches and links that form, and to attaining the correct density of vessels. Too great a blood supply to a tissue is just as devastating as too little.