New research suggests that mesothelioma cells have the ability to form their own new blood vessels, potentially feeding the asbestos cancer’s aggressive growth. The news could lead to new treatments that specifically target this unique ability.
Malignant mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelial linings around the lungs, heart or abdomen. It is caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos and is considered one of the most aggressive and hard-to-treat cancers.
Now, researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia have a better understanding of how mesothelioma tumors support themselves. Their findings may aid in the development of new, more effective therapeutic options.
Understanding Vasculogenic Mimicry
According to the recent report published in the journal Pathology, mesothelioma cells appear to create their own vascular structures through a process called vasculogenic mimicry.
All tissues, including cancer, need blood vessels in order to grow. When a tumor begins to form, it signals the body to create a vascular structure to support it. This is known as angiogenesis.
But the Finders researchers found that mesothelioma cells cultured either alone or with human umbilical vascular endothelial cells, are capable of making their own blood vessel-like structures.
These “angiomatoid” structures can be independent of or in addition to the body’s own angiogenic process and could help explain how the cancer grows so rapidly. Evidence of vasculogenic mimicry has been seen in mesothelioma cells transplanted into mice and in biopsy samples from human malignant mesothelioma tumors.
A Clue to Better Mesothelioma Treatments?
Mesothelioma is notoriously resistant to conventional cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation. The irregular shape and location of mesothelioma tumors can also make them difficult to remove surgically.
The Flinders team is hopeful that a new understanding of how mesothelioma tumors support their own growth through vascular mimicry could lead to treatments that incorporate a way to fight this process (anti-angiogenesis).
“By targeting these tumour-derived vessels, we might be able to improve our therapeutic approaches, while also reducing some of the worst side-effects by switching our focus to inhibiting both vascular mimicry alongside conventional vessel growth,” says study author and Flinders Associate Professor Sonja Klebe.
Evidence of vascular mimicry has also been found in head and neck cancer, adrenocortical carcinoma and colorectal cancer.
Pulford, Emily, “Vasculogenic mimicry in malignant mesothelioma: an experimental and immunohistochemical analysis”, December 2016, Pathology, pp. 650-659
Bawden, Tania, “Copycat cells propel asbestos disease: research”, November 23, 2016, Flinders University, INDaily News