See Inside January 2008

Taming Vessels to Treat Cancer

Restoring order to the chaotic blood vessels inside a tumor opens a window of opportunity for attacking it. Surprisingly, drugs meant to destroy vasculature can make the repairs and may help reverse conditions that lead to cardiovascular disease and blindness


While still a graduate student in 1974, I had a chance to see malignant tumors from a most unusual perspective. I was working at the National Cancer Institute in the laboratory of the late Pietro M. Gullino, who had developed an innovative experimental setup for studying cancer biology—a tumor mass that was connected to the circulatory system of a rat by just a single artery and a single vein. As a chemical engineer, I decided to use this opportunity to measure how much of a drug injected into the animal would flow to the tumor and back out again. Amazingly, most of the substance injected into the rat never entered the tumor. To make matters worse, the small amount that did reach the mass was distributed unevenly, with some areas accumulating hardly any drug at all.

My immediate concern was that even if a small fraction of the cancer cells in a human tumor did not receive an adequate dose of whatever anticancer drug was being applied, those cells could survive—causing the tumor to grow back sooner or later. Perhaps the engineer in me was also drawn to trying to understand and solve the apparent infrastructure problem inside tumors that posed a major obstacle to the delivery of cancer therapies.

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