Gene that helps blood vessels grow could be used to treat cancer
A gene that helps blood vessel networks grow "like a river system" has been identified by scientists.
Experts believe the discovery could pave the way to new treatments for heart disease and cancer.
The gene, Piezo1, sends a signal that allows new blood vessel tributaries to grow in response to changes in blood flow. Lead scientist Professor David Beech, from the University of Leeds, said: "Blood vessel networks are not already pre-constructed but emerge rather like a river system.
"This gene, Piezo1, provides the instructions for sensors that tell the body that blood is flowing correctly and gives the signal to form new vessel structures.
"The gene gives instructions to a protein which forms channels that open in response to mechanical strain from blood flow, allowing tiny electrical charges to enter cells and trigger the changes needed for new vessels to be built."
The English-based team plans to study the effects of manipulating the gene on cancers, which require a supply of blood to grow.
Understanding the gene may also be relevant to atherosclerosis, the narrowing of arteries that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Atherosclerotic plaques, accumulated deposits of material on artery walls, tend to form at areas of disturbed blood flow.
Prof Beech added: "We need to do further research into how this gene can be manipulated to treat these diseases. We are in the early stages of research, but these findings are promising."
The research, co-funded by the British Heart Foundation, appears in the online edition of the journal Nature. Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: "Blood flow has a major effect on the health of the arteries it passes through. Arteries are more likely to become diseased in areas where the flow is disturbed.
"This is because the endothelial cells lining the arteries are exquisitely sensitive to this flow and their response to changes can lead to disease.
"Until now, very little has been known about the process by which blood flow affects endothelial cells. This exciting discovery tells us that a protein in those cells could be critical in detecting and responding to changes in blood flow. Through further research, using this knowledge, we hope to see whether a treatment can be developed that targets this process to prevent the development of disease in healthy arteries," he said.