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Chicken embryo research may lead to new cancer treatments

CNN's Al Hinman reports on a possible new cancer weapon
Windows Media 28K 80K

April 19, 1999
Web posted at: 4:31 p.m. EDT (2031 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Al Hinman

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Harvard University researchers at the Experimental Biology Conference '99 in Washington have presented a study indicating that neomycin, a common antibiotic, may help fight tumor development by blocking the growth of new blood vessels.

Monday's presentation describes the latest development in an international search for new ways to fight cancer through the study of chicken embryos.

The hope is that this research can lead to more studies in animals and eventually humans.

"If we can understand what factors are involved in this process in the embryo, maybe we can gain some information for the process in the human patient," says Dr. Beate Brand-Saberi of Freiberg University in Germany.

A three-day-old chicken embryo is at about the same developmental stage as a human embryo at four or five weeks. At this stage, the first signs of limb growth appear.

German researchers have discovered that this growth is controlled by chemical signals sent from cells to other nearby cells, triggering the production of life-sustaining blood vessels.

"It's a normal, controlled process, as opposed to a tumor where it's not controlled," says Stanford University's Dr. Frank Stockdale. "But the signals we think are very much the same, and therefore by understanding how they grow in the embryo, we will be able to understand how they grow in the tumor."

The process of blood-vessel creation is called angiogenesis. Finding a way to control it is one of the hottest areas in cancer research.

Nearly two-dozen anti-angiogenesis drugs are currently in various stages of human testing in the United States.

"Not every approach that is tried is going to work optimally," says Dr. Jeffery Isner of Tufts University. "That's part of the struggle here, it's part of the challenge for any group of investigators."

Many of the experimental anti-angiogenesis drugs are intended to work by interrupting the cell-to-cell communication confirmed in the German chicken embryo studies.

This research has some doctors convinced they can change the way cancer is fought in the future, moving away from radiation and chemotherapies toward biological approaches to treatment.

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Experimental Biology Conference '99
Harvard University
Stanford University
Tufts University
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