New drug to break down tumour defences

A drug developed by Woodside Professor Ruth Ganss and her team from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research could be used to repair blood vessel defects and allow for more targeted and effective drug delivery.

Current anti-cancer treatments like chemotherapy and immunotherapy, which harness a person’s own killer immune cells, can struggle to enter a tumour because the blood vessels that fuel it become malformed.

Tumours require a lot of nutrients, so surrounding blood vessels are redirected towards the cancer and ultimately develop abnormalities.

While investigating this problem Professor Ganss and her team in the Perkins Vascular Biology and Stromal Targeting Laboratory found that smooth muscle cells that line blood vessels to give them shape and help them pump blood, often break down in tumours.

Once the smooth muscle cells break down, the blood vessel becomes leaky, reducing blood flow and preventing chemotherapy and immune cells travelling into the tumour.

Professor Ganss said the new drug developed in her laboratory worked by repairing the smooth muscle cells and returning normal blood flow to the vessels, allowing other anti-cancer drugs to reach the tumours core.

“To achieve greater absorption of anti-cancer drugs, the blood vessels are really key,” Professor Ganss said.

Professor Ganss said the defect in smooth muscle cells lining blood vessels in cancer could be a catalyst for other problems.

“It could be that once the smooth muscle cells break down and the blood vessels become leaky, cancer cells are able to slip out of the tumours and migrate through the blood stream to spread to different parts of the body.”

“We are currently investigating whether our drug could help stem the spread of cancer in a patient by repairing the leaky blood vessels.”

The research has been published in the prestigious journal Cell Reports.

Learn more about Professor Ganss’ work.