In a remarkable presentation by Dr. William Li on TED Talks, Dr. Li discusses a ground-breaking research on a radically new approach to treatment of some of the most dreaded human conditions including cancer. This approach involves angiogenesis.
What is Angiogenesis?
Angiogenesis is the body’s process of growing blood vessels. Blood vessels deliver blood rich in nutrients and oxygen all throughout the body. These vessels adapt to the environment where they form to complement the structures of the organs they support.
Most of the blood vessels were created while growing in the womb. Adults do not normally grow blood vessels except in special cases like:
- monthly menstrual cycle when uterine lining is formed
- during pregnancy when the placenta is formed connecting the mother and the baby
- when wounds heal
When the is body is healthy, the body can turn angiogenesis on and off to perform these normal body functions. When the body is not healthy, angiogenesis is thrown out of balance and the body might not be able to produce the blood vessels for normal blood flow or it may not be able to stop the growth of blood vessels, producing abnormal blood flow to certain tissues.
A Medical Revolution
A new cutting-edge research links an imbalance in angiogenesis to over 70 diseases including some of the most dreaded ones, like stroke, Alzheimer’s and cancer. Though these diseases appear to be very different in terms of the organ functions they affect and in the symptoms they exhibit, their underlying causes can all be linked to either over-stimulated or inhibited angiogenesis. Never before have the treatment of these illnesses been approached from a standpoint of angiogenesis.
The inability of the body to stimulate angiogenesis results in a lack of blood vessels that in turn result in the reduced blood flow to certain areas of the body. Among the diseases that are caused by insufficient angiogenesis are:
- Chronic Wounds
- Coronary Heart Disease
- Peripheral Arterial Disease
- Hair loss
- Erectile Dysfunction
In other cases the body is unable to shut down angiogenesis or the body is flooded with angiogenic factors that stimulate the blood vessels to continue growing past the normal levels causing abnormal growth in tissues. The diseases that are caused by excessive angiogenesis are:
- Blinding Diseases
- AIDS-Kaposi Sarcoma
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Cerebral Malaria
Although Dr. Li, cited a number of diseases caused by angiogenesis, he focused on the treatment of two of the most serious and pervasive conditions, cancer and obesity. His angiogenic approach to treating these 2 conditions produced such glaringly successful results, giving hope for the usual bleak prognosis especially in the case of cancer.
Angiogenesis and Cancer
The body naturally produces cancer cells. Autopsies of healthy people who died in a car accidents show that 40% of women ages 40-50 have microscopic cancer cells in their breasts and 50% of men in their 50’s and 60’s have microscopic cancer cells in their prostate. And by the time we reach our 70’s, 100% of us will have microscopic cancer cells in our thyroid.
Not all of these cells will develop into full-blown cancer. Without a blood supply, these cells cannot grow larger than 0.5mm³ (roughly the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen). What determines whether these cancer cells will progress into a debilitating disease is if they form a blood supply. Angiogenesis is characteristic of every form of cancer that have progressed into disease. Without angiogenesis cancer cells remain harmless but with angiogenesis, these cells can turn into deadly tumors very rapidly.
As these cells mutate, they release angiogenic factors that stimulate vessel growth. Besides feeding the tumor with oxygen and nutrients, these blood vessels also allow the cancer cells to break off and be transported through the blood stream to other parts of the body (metastasis). When the body loses its natural ability to inhibit abnormal angiogenesis, tumors are able to flourish. Most tumors are diagnosed after angiogenesis has been turned on and left uninhibited for some time, allowing the tumor to grow and manifest as a disease.
Like cancer cells, fat cells also require a blood supply in order for it to grow. As more blood vessels grow within the fat tissue the more rapidly fat tissues grow. As in cancer, when the body lacks the natural ability to inhibit abnormal growth of blood vessels, fat tissues grow very fast leading to obesity. Angiogenesis also lies at the heart of obesity.
Angiogenesis as the Focus of Treatment
Dr. Li’s basic premise is, if angiogenesis is what causes the disease to progress, then you can stop the disease by blocking angiogenesis. This treatment is called Antiangiogenic Therapy.
Current cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation and surgery focus on removing or destroying the tumor itself. These treatment will in most cases lead to the destruction of healthy tissue surrounding the tumor. Radiation and chemotherapy are highly toxic and may even be carcinogenic (known to cause cancer).
Antiangiogenic therapy focuses on inhibiting the growth of blood vessels to stop the blood from flowing to the tumor, thus starving the cancer. Since the blood vessels that feed the tumor, are weak and poorly constructed, they are quite vulnerable to this form of treatment. Since only the blood vessels are targeted, no healthy tissues are destroyed and the cancerous tissue simply shrinks and dies from the lack of oxygen and nutrients. Patients enjoy a better quality of life, both during and after the treatment.
Dr. Li presented remarkable success cases using this treatment in both humans and animals for a broad spectrum of cancer types. Since 2004, more and more angiogenic drugs have been introduced into the market (see table below) as treatment for cancer. Equally effective was the use of antiangiogenic agents to control obesity. Dr. Li’s lab tests with mice showed that antiangiogenic therapy also worked very well in normalizing the weight of obese mice. He also discovered that although the therapy caused the obese mice to lose weight, it could not cause these mice to lose more weight beyond the normal weight of mice.
U. S. FDA Approved Antiangiogenic Drugs
|Year||Drug||Treatment Target (URL)|
|2004||Avastin||Colon, lung , breast, brain, kidney (https://www.drugs.com/avastin.html)|
|2004||Erbitux||Colon, head and neck (https://www.drugs.com/erbitux.html)|
|2004||Tarceva||Lung, pancreatic (https://www.drugs.com/tarceva.html)|
|2005||Nexavar||Kidney, liver (https://www.drugs.com/nexavar.html)|
|2005||Revlimid||Multiple myeloma (https://www.drugs.com/revlimid.html)|
|2006||Sutent||GIST, kidney (https://www.drugs.com/mtm/sutent.html)|
|2006||Thalomid||Multiple myeloma (https://www.drugs.com/thalomid.html)|
|2009||Palladia||Mast cell tumors (canine) (https://www.drugs.com/international/toceranib.html)|
Lifestyle and Cancer
Although the survival rate for early stage cancers improved dramatically with the introduction of antiangiogenic drugs, medicine is still losing the battle with later stage cancers. When the disease has advanced, treatment becomes difficult or impossible. So Dr. Li started looking at the factors that contributed to cancer to find out how to prevent the disease from progressing beyond repair.
Of all the cancer causing factors, only 5-10% can be attributed to genes. 90-95% is due to environment. If we breakdown environmental factors 4-6% can be attributed to alcohol consumption, 10-20% to obesity, 15-20% to infections, 25-30% to tobacco consumption and 30-35% of the cases were pointing to diet.
So if diet was one of the largest contributors to cancer, then it deserved to be studied more intensively. The current focus was on what foods to remove from the diet. Dr. Li wanted to know what could be added to the diet to reduce the incidence or recurrence of cancer. Particularly he wanted to find out if we can eat to starve cancer. He tested ordinary food to see if doses attainable with a regular diet, could inhibit angiogenesis. He found out that it could.
Angiogenesis and Diet
Dr. Li’s tests revealed that certain foods had powerful antiangiogenic properties. He tested the effectiveness of cancer drugs, ordinary drugs and dietary factors in inhibiting abnormal growth of blood vessels in the lab. Remarkably, Dr. Li found out that there were food that were more effective than some drugs (both for common and cancer therapies). The graph from his presentation shows how these antiangiogenic agents stack up vis-a-vis each other.
Efficacy of Antiangiogenic Substances (From Dr. Li’s Presentation slide)
Below is a more detailed list of items included in the graph, showing the generic names, the brand names (italicized) and a link to their description:
- Irinotecan – Camptosar (Cancer Drug) (https://www.drugs.com/Camptosar.html)
- Simvastatin – Zocor (Common Drug) (https://www.drugs.com/Zocor.html)
- Celecoxib – Celebrex (Common Drug) (https://www.drugs.com/Celecoxib.html)
- Diclofenac – Cambia, Cataflam, Voltaren, Voltaren-XR, Zipsor (Common Drug) (https://www.drugs.com/Diclofenac.html)
- Soy Extract – None (Dietary Factor)
- Paclitaxel-Onxol, Taxol (Cancer Drug) (https://www.drugs.com/mtm/paclitaxel.html)
- Tamoxifen – (Soltamox) (Cancer Drug) (https://www.drugs.com/tamoxifen.html)
- Artichoke – None (Dietary Factor)
- Doxycycline – Adoxa, Adoxa CK, Adoxa TT, Alodox, Avidoxy, Doryx, Monodox, Oracea, Oraxyl, Periostat, Vibramycin, Vibramycin Calcium, Vibramycin, Monohydrate, Vibra-Tabs, Doxy-D, Vibramycin Hyclate, Doxy Lemmon, Doxy-Caps, Morgidox, Morgidox 1x100mg, Morgidox 2x100mg, Ocudox Convenience Kit (Common Drug) (https://www.drugs.com/mtm/doxycycline.html)
- Parsley – None (Dietary Factor)
- Berries – None (Dietary Factor)
- Soy – None (Dietary Factor)
- Garlic – None (Dietary Factor)
- Red Grapes – None (Dietary Factor)
- Brassica – None (Dietary Factor) (https://www.botany.com/brassica.html)
- Citrus 1 – None (Dietary Factor)
- Citrus 2 – None (Dietary Factor)
- Dexamethasone – aycadron, Dexamethasone Intensol, DexPak 10 Day Taperpak, DexPak 13 DayTaperpak, DexPak 6 DayTaperpak, Dexpak Jr. Taperpak, Zema Pak 10-Day, Zema Pak 13-Day, Zema Pak 6-Day (Common Drug) (https://www.drugs.com/mtm/dexamethasone.html)
- Pravastatin – Pravachol (Common Drug) (https://www.drugs.com/mtm/pravastatin.html)
- Lavender – None (Dietary Factor)
- Green tea – None (Dietary Factor)
- Glucosamine – None (Dietary Factor)
- Tumeric – None (Dietary Factor)
- Tea – None (Dietary Factor)
- Lenalidomide – Revlimid (Cancer Drug) (https://www.drugs.com/mtm/lenalidomide.html)
- Captopril – Capoten (Common Drug) (https://www.drugs.com/captopril.html)
- VItamin E – None (Dietary Factor)
Introduction of these food into the diet could actually prevent cancer in people who have no cancer and deter the growth of tumors in those who have already developed the disease. Several extensive epidemiological studies already show this to be true, as in the study of effects of tomatoes in the diet of 79,000 men. Tomatoes contain lycopene which is an antiangiogenic agent. The findings are as follows:
And of all those gentlemen who did develop cancer, the tomato-eating group showed significantly smaller tumors and less vessel abnormalities.
List of Cancer-Fighting Food (Antiangiogenic)
Other food that have antiangiogenic properties were also mentioned (listed below) arranged in the order of efficacy. To get a more comprehensive list of antiangiogenic food, visit the Eat to Defeat Cancer website at https://www.eattodefeat.org/.
- Soy Extract
- Red Grapes
- Red Wine
- Brussels Sprouts
- Green Tea
- Maitake Mushrooms
- Sea Cucumber
- Olive Oil
- Grape seed oil
- Dark Chocolate
Please note that the benefits of a healthy diet cannot be attained with a few healthy meals for a short period of time. Health attained from diet is a result of habitually eating nutritious food preferably combined with other healthy habits like exercise, getting enough rest, managing stress and maintaining nurturing relationships.
For more information on clinical trials for Antiangiogenic Therapies for cancers and other diseases, visit the Angiogenesis Foundation website at https://www.angio.org. Below is the full video of Dr. William Li’s TED Talk.
Disclaimer: The author is not endorsing the treatments discussed herein as a replacement for professional medical advice. The information presented here are intended to showcase the development of new therapies in the field. The suggested diet under normal circumstances should not pose any serious threats to health and would generally provide positive benefits, however if you are under treatment or medication please discuss with your health professional, any drastic changes you intend to make in your diet.
Dr. William Li: Can we eat to starve cancer? (TED Talk Video)