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Can a new cancer drug control fat?

09/17/02 12:00AM By Ruth Page
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(Host) Lately, physicians have found a few drugs that are helpful for more than one human problem. Ruth Page describes an instance in which a cancer control drug, now being tested, might keep people from getting fat.

(Page) There are far too many fat Americans, the news media keep telling us. Because persuading people to eat less and exercise more hasn't worked for the majority of the obese, health gurus are trying to find better ways to help them. The most drastic of these is to operate and physically reduce the size of the stomach.

Now, a far less severe treatment shows promise. Science News starts the story with Dr. J. Judah Folkman of Children's Hospital in Boston, who first realized that cancers need new blood vessels to feed them so they can grow. Physicians had assumed that since adult's organs don't need to grow, they would drop angiogensis, the process of growing new blood vessels, except for wound healing or reproduction. Once Folkman's idea was accepted, researchers sought drugs to inhibit growth of the blood vessels that feed cancers. Some are now being tested.

Maria A. Rupnick had been working with Dr. Folkman, trying to isolate cells that form blood vessels in fat tissue. She proved that fat cells, which can grow or diminish very rapidly, are fed by new blood vessels as they expand. Rupnick had a sudden burst of illumination. If other researchers wanted to study blood vessel growth in non-cancerous tissue, why not use fat cells?

So she started working with mice programmed to become obese. She gave her test group a cancer-control drug that shuts off blood vessel growth. She gave nothing to a control group. The treated mice stayed thin, while untreated mice became extremely fat. She then tried giving the cancer drug to mice that happened to be genetically liable to obesity. It kept even those at a normal size; as a bonus, it reduced their insatiable appetites to normal, a result which took Rupnick by surprise. She says she doesn't yet have an explanation for that. All the treated mice in her studies stayed healthy and active.

For any skeptics around, Rupnick's work proved that one could actually SEE the blood vessel growth in the fat of mice that gain weight rapidly. It's a long way from mice to humans, but there does seem to be hope of developing an easier way to help people avoid obesity.

This is Ruth Page describing one more experiment in which mice may be helpful to humans by testing medications for us.
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