In this TED talk, Dr. William Li, President of the Angiogenesis Foundation, discusses a new way to think about treating cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
Dr. Li’s foundation studies angiogenesis, which is the process that our bodies use to grow blood vessels. This process is important because blood vessels can be the vessels of life, but they can also be the vessels of death. In healthy people, new blood vessels only grow when needed to heal from injury, during pregnancy, or as part of the normal reproductive cycle. Without a blood supply, microscopic cancer cells cannot grow and spread. But sometimes when cancer cells mutate, they can take over the normal angiogenesis process to create the new vessels and blood supply they need to grow.
Anti-angiogenesis is the process of preventing the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors and cancer. There are FDA-approved anti-angiogenic drugs on the market already, but Dr. Li advocates the use of food and diet to prevent angiogenesis in the first place, before the cancer has spread and progressed.
Watch to learn more about this developing field at the intersection of food and medicine.
What is Angiogenesis?
It is the process of blood vessels forming from other blood vessels within the body. Blood vessels help keep our body and organs functioning well. The thing with the process of angiogenesis is we need the right amount of it to happen for things to be running smoothly. Amazingly, the body has the ability to regulate angiogenesis via its own growing and pruning system. The problem is, sometimes this process can get out of control in either direction and we begin to see problems.
If angiogenesis is happening insufficiently we might experience symptoms like chronic fatigue, hair loss, stroke, heart disease etc. If angiogenesis is happening excessively we might experience symptoms like cancer, arthritis, obesity, Alzheimer’s etc. Having too many blood vessels can actually promote a disease as the cells are being fed by excessive angiogenesis. In the case of tumors, more nutrients are being brought to the tumor so they continue to grow.
Antiangiogenesis as a strategy against cancer
As early as the 1970s, Dr. Judah Folkman of the Harvard Medical School suggested inhibiting new blood vessel formation as a way to fight cancer.
The malignant tissue would be deprived of its oxygen and nutrient supply, as well as be unable to eliminate metabolic wastes. This in turn would inhibit tumor progression and metastatic progression that accompanies most advanced cancers. These are the main steps of the angiogenic process that can be interrupted:
- Inhibiting endogenous angiogenic factors, such as bFGF (basic Fibroblast Growth Factor) and VEGF (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor)
- Inhibiting degradative enzymes (Matrix Metalloproteinases) responsible for the degradation of the basement membrane of blood vessels
- Inhibiting endothelial cell proliferation
- Inhibiting endothelial cell migration
- Inhibiting the activation and differentiation of endothelial cells
However, the challenge is to develop an antiangiogenic factor that does not affect the existing vasculature.
So what are the foods that we should eat to fight (or starve) cancer? Dr. Li’s research foundation is continuously studying these foods, but the vast majority of his recommended foods are fruits and vegetables including blueberries, strawberries, apples, oranges, peaches, onions, tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, broccoli, grapes, and spinach; grains and seeds including brown rice, oats, and whole grains; and beans and legumes including chick peas and lentils.