Research projects

Stopping tumours from hijacking the blood supply

Professor Robert Kerbel
Project period
Jan 2018 - Jan 2020
Research Institute
Sunnybrook Research Institute
Cancer types
Breast cancer
Professor Robert Kerbel

Aim of the research

Professor Robert Kerbel aims to work out how breast tumours that have spread to the lungs connect themselves to the blood supply. The team hopes this will lead to the development of an entirely new way of targeting the tumour's vasculature to treat cancer that has spread.

Meet the scientist

Robert Kerbel is a senior scientist at the Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto. His lab focuses on the understanding and treatment of metastasis in several forms of cancer, including breast, kidney, ovarian, colorectal, liver cancers and melanoma.

More about the research project

Mouse models of cancer are currently the most common and initial way to test whether or not new treatments may be safe and effective to trial in patients. But we know that these models often can't tell us exactly what will happen and so many drugs that show promise in such preclinical studies fail to work as effectively in patients once they enter advanced clinical trials.

One type of approved treatment that has partially fallen victim to this is a class of drugs called anti-angiogenics. These drugs are aimed at blocking the growth of new blood vessels from existing ones in a tumour (tumour angiogenesis) in the hope of cutting off the supply of oxygen and nutrients that tumours need to keep growing and spreading. However, with some exceptions, these drugs have not worked as well in patients as originally anticipated, especially when treating metastatic disease that has spread to sites such as the lungs.

Professor Robert Kerbel and others have shown previously that this may be because secondary tumours connect to the blood supply in a different way to the primary tumour in that they can hijack the existing blood vessel supply. Now Professor Kerbel wants to understand how much this different process contributes to anti-angiogenic drugs not working optimally. He and his team also want to work out what the molecular features are of this process in the hope that it will help them identify whole new ways to target advanced cancers by selective targeted therapy of the hijacked blood vessels in tumours such as lung metastases.

These days it is difficult to get funding for research. I’m very grateful that Worldwide Cancer Research has funded this particular study, thank you!
Professor Robert Kerbel