Tegen de conventionele wijsheid ingaan

CAMBRIDGE – Toen ik in 1974 afstudeerde, had ik het geluk postdoctoraal werk te kunnen doen met Judah Folkman van de Harvard Medical School. Folkman had een theorie dat de groei van tumoren kon worden gestopt door hun voedingsbronnen af te sluiten. Hij opperde dat tumoren een substantie afscheiden, die de omliggende bloedvaten ertoe brengt naar de tumor toe te groeien, om voedingsstoffen te leveren en afvalstoffen af te voeren. Folkman veronderstelde dat dit proces – angiogenese – van essentieel belang was voor het overleven van de tumor.

Deze theorie ging stevig tegen de conventionele wijsheid in. Wetenschappers die de subsidieverzoeken van Folkman moesten beoordelen, zeiden dat de nieuwe bloedvaten eenvoudigweg het gevolg waren van ontstekingen. Maar Folkman hield voet bij stuk, en uiteindelijk heeft hij bewezen dat zulke chemische substanties inderdaad bestaan. Vandaag, vier decennia later, zijn deze substanties gebruikt om ruim tien miljoen mensen te behandelen, die lijden aan neovasculaire ziekten als maculaire degeneratie en vele verschillende vormen van kanker.

Ik had soortgelijke ervaringen toen ik in zijn laboratorium werkte en trachtte de eerste remmers te isoleren die van invloed waren op de groei van bloedvaten (dit waren substanties met een groot moleculair gewicht). Het was hiervoor nodig om een bio-analyse te ontwikkelen die ons in staat zou stellen het remmen van de bloedvatgroei in de nabijheid van tumoren te observeren.

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