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The recent discovery that endothelial cells may be powerful regulators of tumors paves the way for a new approach to cancer treatment based on tissue engineering.

The endothelial cells that line blood vessels are especially prevalent in tumors, but their role within that environment has not been as well-understood as that of fibroblasts, immune cells, or other cells that help regulate cancer growth and metastasis. To learn more, Elazer R. Edelman, MD, PhD, of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology, and associates placed endothelial cells right next to tumors, allowing the researchers to directly observe the interaction between these cells and cancer cells independent of blood flow.

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The healthy endothelial cells secreted multiple molecules that made breast and lung cancer cells less proliferative and aggressive by reducing the molecular signals that drive these processes. These actions support the concept that endothelial cells are paracrine cancer regulators, and their signals can directly regulate tumor tissue.

“If endothelial cells are in fact an essential regulator of cancer growth, tumor aggressiveness might then be defined by whether endothelial cells or cancer cells can dominate (more aggressive tumors are able to overcome their endothelial cells while the more benign cannot),” noted a statement explaining the implications of the findings, which were published in Science Translational Medicine (2011;3[66]:66ra5). In their own report, the researchers state that the potential of endothelial cells to regulate cancer biology begs further study. ONA