MIT scientists have discovered that cells lining the blood vessels secrete molecules that suppress tumor growth and keep cancer cells from invading other tissues, a finding that could lead to a new way to treat cancer
Cells that line the blood vessels, known as endothelial cells, were once thought to serve primarily as structural gates, regulating delivery of blood to and from tissues. However, they are now known to be much more active. In the 1980s, scientists discovered that endothelial cells control the constriction and dilation of blood vessels, and in the early 1990s, Edelman and his postdoctoral advisor, Morris Karnovsky, and others, discovered an even more important role for endothelial cells: They regulate blood clotting, tissue repair, inflammation and scarring, by releasing molecules such as cytokines (small proteins that carry messages between cells) and large sugar-protein complexes.
Many vascular diseases, notably atherosclerosis, originate with endothelial cells. For example, when a blood vessel is injured by cholesterol, inappropriately high blood sugar, or even physical stimuli, endothelial cells may overreact and provoke uncontrolled inflammation, which can further damage the surrounding tissue.