Infections ‘can halt growth of tumours’

Serious infection can slow down and even halt the growth of cancer tumours by cutting off their blood supply, scientists revealed today.

Serious infection can slow down and even halt the growth of cancer tumours by cutting off their blood supply, scientists revealed today.

Bacterial invasion appears to block the formation of blood vessels that nourish tumours, a new study has found.

The scientists believe infection activates mystery molecules which inhibit the growth of blood vessel tissue within the tumours.

If the molecules can be identified, they could provide a powerful new weapon with which to fight cancer.

The way tumours generate their own blood supply is known as angiogenesis. Scientists have long known that one effective way of tackling cancer would be to prevent angiogenesis taking place.

Dr Andrei Thomas-Tikhonenko, a professor of pathology at the University of Pennsylvania, who led the research, said: ‘‘This finding suggests that infected animals could be a source of new, extremely potent inhibitors of angiogenesis, the Holy Grail of modern anti-cancer research.’’

The phenomenon of tumours being suppressed during infection is well recognised. But until now it was thought it occurred because tumours were ‘‘caught in the cross fire’’ when the immune system was mobilised against invasion.

The study showed that during infection tumours do not grow even in animals with severely weakened immune systems. This indicated that it was the suppression of angiogenesis, not the action of killer immune system cells, that was important. A search is now on for the molecules responsible.

Dr Thomas-Tikhonenko said: ‘‘We are very much interested in identification of these ‘culprits’ because we believe that they will be extremely useful therapeutic agents not only for cancer but also for other diseases where unwanted angiogenesis takes place.’’

The findings were published today in the Journal of Immunology.

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