Of mice and men

I'm feeling great   Cure or hype?
So what are we to make of the stunning "cancer cure" announced so vibrantly on the front page of The New York Times? Will the discovery cure cancer in two years, as one eminent scientist predicted in the article. (He later disavowed that outlandish claim.) nobody knows if a cure is at handCertainly, there's considerable enthusiasm for finding a drug to attack the essential blood vessels, rather than tumor cells that have always been under attack in cancer chemotherapy. "This is one of the hottest areas in cancer research," says hematologist-oncologist Gerald Soff, who also works in angiogenesis.

And yet nobody knows whether a cure -- or even a treatment for cancer -- is at hand. It's quite possible that people will not be able to tolerate the drug as mice have. Folkman himself said it best: "If you have cancer and you are a mouse, we can take good care of you."

At this point, no amount of desperate hope can substitute for the hard research -- and predictable disappointments -- that will attend the development of these angiogenesis inhibitors.

Will the anti-angiogenesis factors work in people?
Peering into our dusty-but-trusty crystal ball, The Why Files has isolated these hurdles that stand between the recent discoveries and real, effective drugs:

    bullet Can the proteins that inhibit blood vessel growth be made in sufficient quantities?

    bullet Which cancers will they work on?

    bullet Can people tolerate them -- or will the they have nasty or deadly side effects?

Mouse image courtesy of Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine.   While these hurdles stand in the way of marketing endostatin and angiostatin (the most promising angiogenesis inhibitors), other anti-angiogenesis drugs are further along in development. Although they are less effective than endostatin in lab mice, at least they have passed elementary human toxicity tests.

end construction zone?Are we making too much of the blood vessel inhibition story? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that the chemicals are not now magic bullets, and may never be. No, since there are many advantages to this radical departure from traditional cancer therapies. "Traditionally, there's been over-hype for almost every cancer therapy that comes along," says Robert Auerbach, an angiogenesis researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"They've been on the front page of Newsweek and Time, and we still have cancer. On the other hand, this approach has not been over-hyped. The fact that you can target vascular development without the dangers of cell damage and mutations that develop drug resistance -- that part is real."

Want to read more on angiogenesis inhibitors?


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