A revolutionary discovery on the treatment of tumors arrives from a scientific study completed in Padua by a team of Italian researchers. The team made an astounding discovery in the field of oncology that could represent a pioneering breakthrough in the history of medicine- a new experimental compound that may block the growth of tumors.
The results of the study demonstrate, in particular, that angiogenesis, the formation process of new blood vessels that are essential to the repair and regeneration of tissues, but also to tumor growth and the development of metastases, depends on the Opa1 protein present in the mitochondria.
In a later phase, the researchers created an innovative anti-Opa1 drug with which they managed to block tumor growth.
Drugs that block the angiogenesis process and remove nutrients from tumors, thus blocking growth, are currently available, but these drugs are not able to block tumor expansion.
The study, supported by the Airc Foundation led by Professor Luca Scorrano (Professor in the Biology Department at the University of Padua and Scientific director of Vimm- Veneto Institute of Molecular Medicine, the operational arm of the Foundation for Advanced Biomedical Research that collaborated with the University of Padua), made this incredible discover by focusing on angiogenesis.
This same mechanism is used by tumors to develop and metastasize. These were the premises the researchers started from, focusing on the role of Opa1 (a protein found in mitochondria) that was identified through a bioinformatic analysis conducted using the powerful computers in the Biology Department at the University of Padua. According to the study, Opa1 plays a key role in that it is able to trigger this particular chain reaction.
On the grounds that the tumor would not be able to grow and expand if the formation of this protein were blocked, the researchers created an innovative anti-Opa1 compound that slowed the progression of the tumor.
Prof. Scorrano said, “Building on these premises, we wondered if mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell involved in many aspects of tumor biology, were also involved in angiogenesis. We found that mitochondria quickly changed their shape when angiogenesis is activated, suggesting their participation during the process of new blood vessel formation. A bioinformatic analysis conducted on Prof. Gabriele Sales’ powerful computer in the Biology Department at the University of Padua indicated that the mitochondrial protein Opa1 could cause these mitochondrial changes during angiogenesis”.
Dr. Stéphanie Herkenne played a key role in the study. A Belgian postdoctoral researcher who spent 6 years in Padua at VIMM and the Department of Biology, Dr. Herkenne verified that the activation of Opa1 (the protein responsible for controlling the shape and many other functions of mitochondria) is essential to angiogenesis. If Opa1 is not activated, angiogenesis cannot proceed.
Genetic inactivation of the Opa1 gene in blood vessel cells blocks both the growth and metastasis of tumors experimented on in labs. These two processes are completely dependent on angiogenesis.
Future developments in research
Future developments in research
This new discovery has achieved surprising results, showing a reduction between 70-80% in the growth of experimental tumors. Realistically, drugs that can be derived from this first compound may find clinical use against tumors that develop a resistance to bevacizumab (a drug used in the treatment of different types of tumors) or in tumors that develop a resistance to other therapies.
Naturally, all this is possible only if the effectiveness and safety of these compounds are confirmed in clinical studies on patients. In other words, we must wait for other studies to be carried out in order to improve this new category of compounds and to understand what their therapeutic indications are in oncology.