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Taking an Environmental Approach to Killing Tumors

Tumors are not made of cancer cells alone. Instead, they are a complex mix of cancerous cells and normal cells that form a rich network – known as the microenvironment – that supports and nurtures a growing tumor.  Think of the microenvironment as the “soil” that nourishes a cancer “seed.”  Scientists could target that “soil” with anti-cancer drugs, making it an inhospitable place for a tumor to grow and spread. Such an approach could greatly increase the effectiveness of traditional anti-cancer treatments, according to researchers at The Wistar Institute.

This is a new way of thinking for the field of cancer medicine, a break from its traditional goal of minimizing damage to healthy cells. Wistar researchers, led by Ellen Puré, Ph.D., have demonstrated that a molecule called fibroblast activation protein (FAP), which is found in normal cells, has a critical role in the tumor microenvironment. 

Puré and her colleagues have demonstrated that targeting FAP – or deleting the gene that codes for it – can significantly reduce tumors in mice with lung and colon cancer by blocking some of the important biological processes required for tumor growth. Since FAP is expressed in nearly 90 percent of all human solid tumor cancers, drugs that target the protein may effectively boost the ability of specific drugs to attack both the tumors and their supporting cells