Elazer Edelman, professor in the MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST), says that implanting such cells adjacent to a patient's tumor could shrink a tumor or prevent it from growing back or spreading further after surgery or chemotherapy. He has already tested such an implant in mice, and MIT has licensed the technology to Pervasis Therapeutics, Inc., which plans to test it in humans.
Edelman describes the work, which appears in the Jan. 19 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine, as a "paradigm shift" that could fundamentally change how cancer is understood and treated. "This is a cancer therapy that could be used alone or with chemotherapy radiation or surgery, but without adding any devastating side effects," he says.
Cells that line the blood vessels, known as endothelial cells, were once thought to serve primarily as structural gates, regulating delivery of blood to and from tissues. However, they are now known to be much more active. In the 1980s, scientists discovered that endothelial cells control the constriction and dilation of blood vessels, and in the early 1990s, Edelman and his postdoctoral advisor, Morris Karnovsky, and others, discovered an even more important role for endothelial cells: They regulate blood clotting, tissue repair, inflammation and scarring, by releasing molecules such as cytokines (small proteins that carry messages between cells) and large sugar-protein complexes.
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