01 September 2013
These delicate fan-like structures are blood vessel cells growing in a plastic dish. In their more usual location within the body they’re responsible for sprouting new blood vessels wherever they’re needed, whether that’s in a developing foetus in the womb, in the aftermath of an injury such as a cut, or even to feed growing cancers. It’s this last role that’s attracted the interest of scientists searching for new ways to tackle the disease. By studying these cells in the lab, researchers have made a surprising discovery – they are unusually reliant on a type of sugar called glucose to provide energy for growth, while other types of cells can use alternative fuel sources such as fats. Developing ways to switch off the supply of glucose to blood vessel cells could shut down a tumour’s blood supply, starving it of oxygen and nutrients so it can’t grow.
Written by Kat Arney