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NIH Record

Folkman To Give NIH Lecture

By Ann Saphir

Angiogenesis -- the formation of tiny blood vessels -- is a key step in cancer growth and metastasis. Dr. M. Judah Folkman of Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School pioneered the study of angiogenesis 25 years ago and continues to lead the field today. In a talk entitled "New Directions in Angiogenesis Research," he will present the NIH Director's Lecture at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 19, in the Clinical Center's Masur Auditorium.

Dr. M. Judah Folkman

Folkman's research has shown that tumors cannot grow beyond a few square millimeters without sparking the growth of masses of tiny blood vessels. These blood vessels "feed" the tumor cells, allowing them to proliferate without self-destructing in what would be a normal cycle of cell growth. In his upcoming talk, Folkman will present new research findings that point to angiogenesis as a "unifying concept" behind the diverse manifestations of cancer, including tumor growth and its spread to other parts of the body.

Tumors can be thought of as two very different cell-populations: the tumor cells themselves, and the cells of the endothelial lining that surround the tumor. Each cell population produces substances that drive the growth of the other. The tumor cells stimulate angiogenesis in the endothelial cells, and the growth of new blood vessels in the endothelial cells in turn feeds the tumor cells. The goal of anti-angiogenic therapy is to disrupt this symbiosis and halt the growth of the tumor.

Folkman proposes that clinical treatments of cancer target both cell populations simultaneously: cytotoxic agents (such as chemotherapy) to kill off the tumor cells, and angiogenic inhibitors to prevent the endothelial cells from stimulating the growth of blood vessels. While tumors eventually develop resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs, Folkman explains, endothelial cells do not develop resistance to angiogenic inhibitors. "Anti-angiogenesis can go where chemotherapy cannot go," he says.

In the United States, angiogenic inhibitors are being evaluated in 18 active clinical trials for patients with cancer. Perhaps the best known example of these experimental anti-cancer drugs is thalidomide, a drug prescribed in the early 1960's in Europe to control morning sickness in pregnant women. The drug, which was responsible for more than 10,000 babies with serious birth defects, has been shown to prevent neovascularization in animals and is undergoing initial testing in selected cancer patients in the United States.

Working in the early 1960's at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda with David Long, Folkman developed the use of silicone implants for sustained drug release, paving the way for the invention, a quarter century later, of contraceptive implants. In 1965, Folkman took a post with Harvard's surgical service at Boston City Hospital, and in 1967 became a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and surgeon-in-chief at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston. Here he began his major laboratory effort in the study of angiogenesis, and in 1981 stepped down from his teaching position to devote his full effort to research. The author of 265 peer-reviewed papers, Folkman has received numerous prestigious awards, including a 10-year MERIT award from the National Cancer Institute in 1989, election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1990, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cancer Research in 1995, and the Charles S. Mott Prize from the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation in 1997.

The lecture is a part of the NIH director's Wednesday afternoon lecture series. All NIH'ers are invited to attend. For more information, contact Hilda Madine, 594-5595.

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