Anti-Angiogenic & Cancer

by Amalia

I just finished watching a very interesting TED presentation by William Li about a new way to treat cancer and other diseases. He introduced a new term which I hadn’t heard about: angiogenesis, which is the process involved in the development of new blood vessels. As we all know, blood vessels are one of the most essential parts of circulatory system that transport blood throughout the body. There’re  about 19 billion of these blood vessels exist in our body. The amount of blood vessels that are present at any given time are controlled and regulated by our body. These vessels can either grow to form new blood vessels or can be pruned back to remove excess blood vessels to baseline using simulators and/or inhibitors of angiogenesis. 

However, everything does not always run smoothly. Defects in the system do exist; i.e. when the body can’t prune back extra blood vessels or can’t prune grow enough new ones in the right place at the right time. In these situations, angiogenesis is out of balance, which results in a myriad of diseases. For example, insufficient angiogenesis (not enough blood vessels) can lead to wounds that don’t heal, heart attacks, and nerve damage; while excessive angiogenesis (too many blood vessels) can lead to cancer, blindness, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease. The interesting thing is that: there are more than 70 major diseases that actually share abnormal angiogenesis as their common denominator. And the new way to tackle these diseases is by controlling angiogenesis!

Let’s take a closer look at cancer. Well, everyone of us has microscopic cancers in our body. These cancers are small, microscopic nests of cells that can only grow to one half a cubic millimeter in size (which is as small as the tip of a ballpoint pen). They can’t get any larger due to lack of blood supply (no oxygen & nutrients). So they’re not dangerous at all, until they get a blood supply. As Li said, “the body’s ability to balance angiogenesis, when it’s working properly, prevents blood vessels from feeding cancers.” That means, we can prevent cancers (and other diseases) by blocking angiogenesis and preventing blood vessels from reaching cancer cells, right?!

In fact, there’s a so-called antiangiogenic therapy/drug which aims at cutting off the blood supply to cancers. It seems quite promising! I seriously have never heard of it before. It seemed to me that chemotherapy was the only way to fight treat cancers. But of course, anti-angiogenesis drugs do have side-effects, some of them are quite serious. In fact, the risks of using these drugs might actually outweigh the benefits. I haven’t done quite an extensive research on this but I found that these drugs may result in tumor recurrence at many sites in the body. Scary, but I think more research needs to be done about this.

Now, the question continues: what could we add to our diet that’s naturally antiangiogenic, that could boost the body’s defense system and beat back those blood vessels that are feeding cancers? So here are the list of some foods that we can eat: