Experimental oncology

Tumor biology and vascular targeting

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Head of Unit

Angelo Corti

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Long-term commitment of Tumor biology and vascular targeting Unit is to understand the role of inflammatory cytokines and chromogranin A in cancer biology, and to develop new strategies for cancer therapy based on the manipulation of the tumor vasculature with targeted cytokines and anti-angiogenic agents, in order to improve the penetration of chemotherapeutic drugs and the infiltration of cells of the immune system in tumor tissues.

Research activity

The Unit has demonstrated that peptides containing the NGR or isoDGR motives (capable of recognizing tumor-vasculature-associated CD13 and integrins, respectively) can be exploited as ligands for the targeted delivery of cytokines, drugs and therapeutic nanoparticles to tumors. One therapeutic strategy originally developed by this group, based on vascular targeting with NGR-TNF (a genetically engineered tumor necrosis factor-alpha derivative) is being tested in clinical studies.
The Unit is also currently testing the hypothesis that gold nanoparticles tagged with tumor-homing peptides may work as multifunctional platforms for delivering synergistic cytokines to the tumor vasculature.

Another area of research regards investigations on chromogranin A, a protein released in circulation by the neuroendocrine system, and its regulatory role on vascular physiology, angiogenesis, and cancer metastatization. Group studies led to discover that chromogranin A is an important regulator of the tumor vascular biology, vascular permeability, angiogenesis, tumor growth, and tumor cell trafficking, and that chromogranin A-fragmentation represents an important mechanism for the activation of angiogenesis. The potential diagnostic/prognostic values of CgA fragmentation in cancer patients represent others important areas of research, based on the observation that chromogranin A cleavage, and consequent activation of an angiogenic switch, is associated with increased tumor microvascular density and disease progression.