Discovery, discovery, discovery

“Location. Location. Location,” is a mantra in real estate circles, but when it comes to molecular science nowadays, the phrase appears to be “Discovery. Discovery. Discovery.”

This takes on particular importance when the view from the lab bench after the last puff of smoke clears reveals what could be potential applications for human health and disease, especially for future interventions in cancer.

A good example are the recent findings from the lab of  Victoria Bautch, Ph.D., professor of biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In a paper published recently in the journal Developmental Cell (the cover story for that issue), Bautch and co-authors reported having identified a new biological process that spurs the growth of new blood vessels.

Up until now, scientists thought that the molecular signals to form new blood vessel sprouts came from outside the vessel. But new research from UNC has shown that signals can also come from within the blood vessel, pushing new blood vessel sprouts outward.

In experiments using mouse embryonic stem cells and mouse retinas, the researchers found that defects in a protein called Flt-1 lead to abnormal sprouts and poor vessel networks. Other research recently showed that levels of Flt-1 protein are particularly low in the dilated and leaky blood vessels that supply tumors with oxygen.

“The blood vessels themselves seem to participate in the process guiding the formation of the vascular network,” said  Bautch. “They do not just passively sit there getting acted upon by signals coming from the outside in. Rather, they produce internal cues that interact with external cues to grow.”

The findings could give important insights into the formation of the vasculature needed to feed new tumors.

Bautch, who is also a member of the Program in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, the UNC McAllister Heart Institute and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, notes that the more scientists understand about the sophistication and complexity of the mechanisms guiding the formation of blood vessel sprouts, the better equipped they will be to develop therapeutic interventions to produce or to halt new blood vessels.

Les Lang. (Video produced by Courtney Potter)

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