A newly discovered tissue- and organ-specific mechanism that regulates blood vessel growth was revealed in The FASEB Journal (2015; doi:10.1096/fj.14-267799). When the mechanism is inhibited, tumor growth in mice with diabetes is reduced. In addition to diabetes-related cancers, the approach may be also used to treat other diabetes complications associated with increased blood vessel growth, such as retinopathy or nephropathy.

“Complications of diabetes are the main reason for mortality and hospitalization of diabetic patients,” said Olga Stenina-Adognravi, PhD, a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Molecular Cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. Advanced methods of measuring and regulating blood sugar levels have made deaths from diabetic coma very rare, but vascular complications remain an important problem that leads to mortality and loss of quality of life, Stenina-Adognravi explained.

“Developing a new organ-specific way to prevent and treat the vascular complications and cancer growth in diabetic patients is the goal of our work.”

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To make their discovery, Stenina-Adognravi and colleagues injected diabetic mice that had breast cancer with the small nucleic acid fragment (inhibitor) that targeted and neutralized the main regulator of the blood vessel growth induced by the increased blood sugar. The control group of animal models received a similar nucleic acid fragment that did not have any effect.

At the end of the experiments, the tumors were excised, measured, and examined for growth of blood vessels. They found that the inhibitor, which blocked the pathway initiated by the high blood sugar, caused the blood vessels and the cancer to grow slower. The same inhibitor did not have any effect in organs and tissues unaffected by the increased blood vessel growth.

“Diabetes is a very serious disease and its association with cancer is ominous,” said Gerald Weissmann, MD, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal. “This research helps us understand what goes wrong with tumor blood vessels in diabetes. It not only explains how high blood sugar promotes the growth of cancers, but also outlines a strategy for treating tumors in patients with diabetes.”