Achilles heel of common childhood tumour found

October 20th, 2008 - 1:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 20 (IANS) Researchers have uncovered a mechanism for the rapid growth noticed in infantile hemangioma, the most common childhood tumour. The development of infantile hemangioma slows later in childhood, and most tumours disappear entirely by puberty. However, while they are benign, they can cause disfigurement or clinical complications.

This new research offers hope for the most severe of these cases, pointing at a potential, non-invasive treatment for the condition.

These tumours affect up to 10 percent of children of European descent, with girls more frequently afflicted than boys. The growths appear within days of birth - most often as a single, blood-red lump on the head or face - then grow rapidly in the ensuing months.

The new findings are the result of a collaboration between scientists from Harvard’s Medical and Dental Medicine School, Children’s Hospital Boston, and the de Duve Institute at the Catholique University of Louvain in Brussels.

Researchers looked at tissue isolated from nine distinct hemangioma tumours. They found that the endothelial cells that lined the affected blood vessels were all derived from the same abnormal cell.

Like other tumours, hemangiomas are caused by the abnormal proliferation of tissue. Since no other type of cell within the tissue displayed the same self-replicating tendency, the scientists concluded that the endothelial cells were the source of the tumour’s growth.

The endothelium is the thin layer of cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels, forming an interface between circulating blood and the rest of the vessel wall, according to a Harvard university press release. The findings were published in the Sunday edition of Nature Medicine.

These findings open up new treatment options, according to study leader Bjorn R. Olsen, professor of cell biology at Harvard medical and dental schools.

“What the data suggests is that any therapy that is directed against vascular endothelial growth factor - anti-VEGF therapy - is the rational therapy to use in these tumours,” said Olsen.

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