Scientists hoping gene discovery could help in cancer treatment

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SCIENTISTS IN Yorkshire have made a major breakthrough in the study of genes which could lead to a greater understanding of how to treat cancer.

Researchers at the University of Leeds have found a gene which plays a vital role in blood vessel formation and are now planning to study the effects of the gene on cancers, which require a blood supply to grow, as well as in heart diseases where plaques form in parts of blood vessels with disturbed blood flow.

Professor David Beech, of the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, who led the research, said: “This work provides fundamental understanding of how complex life begins and opens new possibilities for treatment of health problems such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, where changes in blood flow are common and often unwanted. We need to do further research into how this gene can be manipulated to treat these diseases.

“We are in the early stages of this research, but these findings are promising.”

Blood vessel networks do not develop until blood is already flowing – emerging like a river system, created in response to the amount of flow. The gene the scientists discovered, Piezo1, provides the instructions for sensors which tell the body blood is flowing and gives the signal to form new vessels.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, the associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the research, said: “Until now, very little has been known about the process by which blood flow affects endothelial cells.

“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.”