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Apelin inhibition as an anti-cancer therapy

Final Report Summary - APELIN THERAPY (Apelin inhibition as an anti-cancer therapy)

Cancer is the second leading cause of mortality in Europe. One of the many strategies that is currently being explored by cancer researchers is to investigate what happens as a tumour grows, in the hope of finding new ways to slow or to stop its growth.

Increasing the blood supply is one of the phenomena that happen as a tumour grows, as it will be needed to provide the tumour with the nutrients it requires. Establishing this supply is a key stage in the transition from a small to a rapidly-growing tumour, and it is described as one of the hallmarks of cancer.

Angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels, is characterized by existing vessels sprouting and growing outwards, and is caused by several proteins that are produced in the body. Tumours are able to use this usually healthy process to support their growth. Therefore, understanding more about how angiogenesis is initiated by tumours, and how it could be inhibited, is a potential way in which new strategies to target tumours could be found.

Apelin is a peptide that plays several different roles in the in the human body. Among them, apelin plays a role in the vascular system, the brain and bones and it also has cardiac and digestive roles. Importantly, apelin is also frequently found highly produced in tumours, where, among other proteins, it initiates angiogenesis.

The current project focused on understanding the role of apelin in initiating angiogenesis in tumours and exploring potential new therapies for cancer. To do so, model organisms, in which apelin was knocked out, were used. These organisms were studied to see how they differed from wild-type organisms. Several techniques were used in a multi-disciplinary approach to study the role of apelin in tumours; among them, histological techniques, non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and transcriptome analysis. These techniques provided new insights into the functional role of apelin in angiogenesis and its usefulness as a cancer target. In addition, the work in the lab was complimented by studies of patients.

Taken together, this project provided substantial new insights into the role of apelin in cancer. New information about the role of apelin in tumour angiogenesis was acquired. The expected final results are a clear picture of a previously unknown role of apelin that provides a clear indication of a therapeutic approach that can be applied to patients with cancer. It is likely that a new form of treatment will emerge that can be given to complement existing therapies.