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Scientists discover two new cancer-fighting proteins

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message board MESSAGE BOARDS:
Cancer Update

August 5, 1999
Web posted at: 1:00 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore

ROCKVILLE, Maryland (CNN) -- The fight against cancer may have gained two new weapons. Researchers announced Thursday they have discovered two new cancer-fighting proteins that may help to starve tumors.

Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Rockville, Maryland-based Human Genome Sciences discovered the two new angiogenesis inhibitors, called METH-1 and METH-2, which seem to be more potent than other similar compounds already being tested.

"METH-1 is the more powerful of the two angiogenesis inhibitors and was found in laboratory studies to be 50 times as potent as one of the previously described inhibitors, called endostatin," said Dr. Judith Gasson, director of the UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center.

Angiogenesis inhibitors are powerful proteins that prevent blood vessels from forming. For cancerous tumors to grow, they need blood vessels to feed and nourish themselves.

These proteins shut off that blood supply and starve the tumor, and the cancer shrinks in size.

"A tumor can't grow much beyond the size of a head of a pin without forming blood vessels, which bring in nutrients and oxygen and so on. If we're able to inhibit the process that controls the growth of blood vessels, this could be very powerful in the arsenal of anti-cancer weapons that we have," Gasson said.

The discovery was made in a collaboration between UCLA and Human Genome Sciences, which maps human genes and puts the information into a large computer database.

"When we came across what we thought were natural substances that inhibited blood vessel formation, we naturally went ... to see whether these substances do indeed prevent blood vessel formation," said Human Genome Sciences Chairman and Chief Executive Dr. William Haseltine.

Researchers say genes, known as the human genome, hold the key to understanding disease and are the future of medicine.

"As the sequence of the entire human genome becomes available, it will be increasingly possible to do these types of searches and to pull out new molecules that have potential biological activity that will aid not only in the fight against cancer, but heart disease and other diseases as well," Gasson said.

METH-1 and METH-2 are still in an early phase of research. While scientists are excited about their potential, there is still a long road ahead. Human clinical trials have only recently started on one of the first angiogenesis inhibitors discovered, endostatin.



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