Cancer drug potential for eye diseases

Drugs used to treat leukaemia could offer a new target for treating the abnormal blood vessels which form in many blinding conditions, such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. These abnormal vessels can leak fluid, resulting in blindness.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) found that imatinib, a drug used to treat patients with leukaemia, inhibited angiogenesis – the growth of abnormal blood vessels. In cancer patients, the drug targets the molecule ABL1, inhibition of which helps to stop tumour cells from spreading in leukaemia.

Current anti-angiogenics target VEGF, a growth factor involved in signalling the growth of new blood vessels. Professor Christina Ruhrberg, of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and who led the research, told Medical Xpress: “We discovered an alternative mechanism that regulates blood vessel growth and does not depend on VEGF.”
The alternative pathway involves a molecule called NRP1, which passes on the signal to stimulate new vessel growth via an intermediary molecule, ABL1. So the inhibition of ABL1 by imatinib disrupts this pathway and so blocks new vessel growth.
Patients take imatinib orally, offering hope that an anti-angiogenic treatment could be delivered systemically through tablets rather than by the anti-VEGF eye injections which are the current standard.
The research is published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.
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