3D image shows how the more aggressive tumors feed on

3D image shows how the more aggressive tumors feed on

  • Multidisciplinary team of UC confirmed ancient theory
  • Dr. Gareth Owen verified that cancer cells create inner tubes that connect to the blood vessels.

L as tumor cells, as well as healthy ones, need access to the blood vessels of the body to obtain nutrients and oxygen that allow them to survive. However, when this blood supply does not exist or is decreased, more aggressive tumors have the ability to create a path of alternative irrigation, producing tubes inside which can transport your food.

This property, called imitation vasculogenic, was described for the first time in 1999, causing controversy as, although it demonstrated the existence of these channels, the complex was to ascertain its tubular shape and their ability to transport liquid, in this case, the blood.

This was precisely what made a multidisciplinary team of scientists, led by Gareth Owen, Ph.d. in biological sciences from the University of London and academic-UC, whose work "Structural and functional identification of vasculogenic mimicry in" Vitro"- started by Dusan PhD student Racordon - was recently published in the journal" Scientific reports ".

"To treat cancer in the 90s, was a treatment with drugs to inhibit the growth of blood vessels to the tumor. However, tumors, although of a smaller size, continued to grow", says the doctor Owen. "It was discovered that some tumor cells to change and form tubes composed of sugars (glycoproteins) which produces irrigation. These appear in 30% of tumors and, precisely, in the most aggressive, whose presence is associated with a much shorter survival time in patients,"he added.

3D image

However, there is no convincing evidence that these channels were able to irrigate blood. Here the work of Beatriz Sánchez, PhD in physical sciences from the program of physical health of the University of Seville, which suggested using a x-ray microtomography to create a 3D image of the tubes holding a sign of ovarian cancer appeared. "We use a scanner that submits the sample to a beam of X rays. Sample rotating and point-blank 2,400 2D images, from different angles, which has managed to build three-dimensional image,"explains Professor UC.

To recheck the theory, Francisco Nualart, director of the Center for advanced microscopy of the Biobío, linked to the University of Concepción, also contributed their own. "We are dealing with a confocal microscope, which uses laser light to give relief to these structures and to generate an image tremendously resolute and in which can be seen very well the formation of these tubes (see image). Laser light has defined wavelengths and sample can cut off by layers, scan the topology of the surface of these cells, which have the property of emitting a fluorescent light, and reconstruct 3D image", says the doctor in cell biology and Molecular.

Finally, Alfonso González, doctor of science with a major in biology cell of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (PUC), helped to demonstrate that these tubular structures created by the cancer cells are able to mobilize fluids. How? He made a microinjection of ink that colored the inside of these channels, while at the same time, it ruled out that many of the structures described as "imitation vasculogenic" in the existing literature, it were not, since they were unable of transmit fluids.


Dr. Gareth Owen says that his work "is the most convincing evidence so far that there are these tubes in cancerous cells in vitro created and which, moreover, can lead fluid in, believe, all types of cancer".

"We now have a new target. The next question to answer is how these tubes are formed. When we have the answer, can work on a drug to inhibit them and turn this 30% of more aggressive tumors in other more treatable and with best chance of survival", concludes.

Feed tube

Red shows the 3D image of the tube that feeds the cells with nutrients and oxygen.

Differential system

The tubular structure has no endothelial cells, as opposed to the blood vessels.

Own capacity

Only malignant cells, which are shown in green, are able to create this network of alternative irrigation.

The study showed that some tumors have a network of inner tubes that carry fluid.