Blood Vessel Cells May Fight Cancer

MIT Cancer research

Does the body have what it takes to suppress tumor growth and to fight cancer? Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found that blood vessel cells secrete molecules that prevent cancer cells from infiltrating other tissues, a discovery that could eventually result in new ways to treat cancer.

Endothelial cells could help fight cancer

Endothelial cells line the interior surface of blood vessels and are found throughout the entire circulatory system. In the early 1990s, Elazer Edelman, currently professor in the MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology, and his colleagues discovered that endothelial cells release certain molecules that allow these cells to play a critical role in blood clotting and tissue repair, scarring, and inflammation.

This information, along with other research findings over the years, led Edelman and his team to new discoveries. Several years ago, Edelman began using endothelial cells and a protein called collagen to make an implantable device that could be placed in the body to control disease. In clinical trials, these devices were placed around blood vessels in patients who had undergone vascular surgery and were found to control local clotting and infection.


In the new study, endothelial cell implants were used in mice and were found to significantly slow tumor growth as well as prevent destructive changes in tumor structure. The researchers also found that cancer cells grown in secretions of endothelial cells were less able than untreated cancer cells to metastasize and colonize the lungs of mice.

Although endothelial cells secrete hundreds of substances that may be responsible for these benefits, the researchers identified two they believe are important: perlecan, which is a large sugar-protein complex; and interleukin-6, a cytokine (a small protein molecule that is involved in cell communications). Endothelial cells that secrete a lot of perlecan but small amounts of interleukin-6 are able to suppress cancer cell invasion.

Edelman and his colleagues believe that implanting endothelial cells near a patient’s tumor could shrink the tumor, prevent it from recurring, or stop it from spreading further after surgery or chemotherapy. He notes that use of these blood vessel cells “could be used alone or with chemotherapy, radiation or surgery, but without adding any devastating side effects” in the fight against cancer.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology