Tumour blood supply stopped by a modified natural compound

Researchers have discovered how a modified natural compound can disrupt the formation of blood vessel networks in neuroblastoma tumours, thus preventing tumours from laying down the vital supply lines that fuel cancer growth and spread.

The international study paves the way for less toxic treatments for neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer that has an average age of diagnosis of just one to two years old.

The discovery is based on an earlier study by Dr Orazio Vittorio of Children’s Cancer Institute (CCI). In 2012, he found that the natural polyphenol catechin slows tumour growth in the laboratory but breaks down too quickly in the body to be effective.

“We joined catechin with a sugar called dextran. We found this dextran-catechin complex is much more stable in the body and that it slows tumour growth by affecting copper levels – but we didn’t know precisely how,” Dr Vittorio said.

The new research showed that copper is needed by endothelial cells, the cells that line blood vessels, and that dextran-catechin disrupts the cells’ copper levels in several ways.

The result is clearly visible down a microscope. When human endothelial cells were cultured and treated with dextran-catechin, the normally branching networks of blood vessels failed to form properly. Likewise, in animal models, neuroblastoma tumours treated with dextran-catechin had significantly fewer blood vessels than tumours treated with saline control.

“Instead of forming a neat, branching network of blood vessels, you see a mess of cells all over the place, which means cancer cells can’t get the blood supply they need,” explained Dr Vittorio.

“This is exciting because it’s a new target for the childhood cancer neuroblastoma that appears safe and has minimal side effects”, he said.

Further laboratory research into dextran-catechin’s potential as a future treatment is underway. The study was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

This news article was first published on the CCI website.

ACRF has supported cancer research at CCI by awarding three research grants, in total $5.2 million, towards cutting edge research technology.