Academy Professor Kari Alitalo receives the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine 2006 for having discovered the first growth factor controlling the formation of the lymphatic vessels. This breakthrough could lead to innovative anticancer and cardiovascular therapies and to a new treatment for congenital lymphoedema, a disorder of the lymphatic system.
In order to develop, a cancerous tumour needs oxygen and nutrients, which are supplied by the blood vessels. It therefore secretes growth factor called VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor), which stimulates the formation of these vessels. This process, known as angiogenesis, has been extensively studied. In contrast, little attention has been paid to the role of the lymphatic system, which transports lymph, a solution containing proteins, fat components and white blood cells. Alitalo has studied the development of the lymphatic vessels, a process known as lymphangiogenesis. This led him to isolate and characterize the first growth factor for the lymphatic system, VEGF-C. He also discovered the corresponding receptor (VEGFR-3), which allows the growth factor to bind to the cells lining the capillaries.
These studies could have interesting spin-offs in the field of anticancer treatments. Using transgenic mice, Alitalo has, in fact, shown that a soluble form of the receptor VEGFR-3 inhibits the formation of lymphatic vessels and reduces the metastases, which pass through the lymph nodes before becoming disseminated in the body. In addition, the Finnish researcher has proposed a new therapy for congenital lymphoedema, a dysfunction of the lymphatic system that presents as swelling of the limbs. The first clinical trials are in progress.
Alitalo will use the amount of the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine 2006 to pursue his research work on growth factors involved in the regulation of angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis.
Academy Professor Kari Alitalo leads an Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence and the Molecular and Cancer Biology Research Programme at the University of Helsinki. The Centre of Excellence in Cancer Biology deals with the key interactive aspects of molecular and cellular cancer biology, on the regulation of cell growth through the cell cycle checkpoints and their deregulation by genetic insults. The major aim is to understand the mechanisms of development of blood vessels in a process called tumour angiogenesis.
Alitalo et al., Lymphangiogenesis in development and human disease. Nature. 2005 Dec 15;438:946-53. Review.
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