Belgian breakthrough in cancer research

A lack of oxygen in tumour cells (tumor hypoxia) causes them to grow even faster. This is the conclusion of research led by Belgian scientists. The conclusion is a surprising one, as it seems to go against the laws of nature, but it provides new opportunities in the battle against cancer.

The study was conducted by Professor Diether Lambrechts and MD Bernard Thienpont of the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology and Leuven University (KU Leuven). It has been published in the leading scientific magazine Nature.

The less oxygen, the better cancer cells grow. It seems to go against everyday logic.

“Compare it to someone who’s being strangled. The person will resist fiercely and will turn more aggressive. This is what happens here”, explains Lambrechts. Hypoxia turns out to play a crucial role in the further development of cancer, after the illness was triggered by DNA mutation or carcinogenic factors such as smoking.

The findings mean that more oxygen will slow down the growth of the tumor cells. This provides new opportunities in the development of new medicines to counter cancer. This will yield results in a couple of years. Medicines will bring extra oxygen to the tumours, which should then become less aggressive. – vrt