Recherche scientifique et idées reçues

CAMBRIDGE – Après ma thèse en 1974, j'ai eu la chance extraordinaire de travailler avec Judah Folkman de la faculté de médecine de Harvard. Le Dr Folkman pensait que la progression des tumeurs pouvait être bloquée en supprimant leur source d'alimentation. Il a émis l'hypothèse selon laquelle les tumeurs produisent une substance appelée facteur angiogénique tumoral qui induit la croissance des vaisseaux sanguins à proximité, leur fournit des nutriments et les "nettoit". Il pensait que ce processus, l'angiogenèse, est d'une importance cruciale pour la survie de la tumeur.

Cette théorie allait à l'encontre des idées reçues. Les scientifiques qui ont examiné les demandes de subvention de Folkman ont dit que l'apparition de nouveaux vaisseaux sanguins était simplement due à une inflammation, et non au facteur angiogénique tumoral. Mais Folkman a persévéré et a finalement démontré que cette substance existe. Aujourd'hui, 40 ans après, ce type de substance a permis de traiter plus de 10 millions de personnes atteintes de maladies néovasculaires telle la dégénérescence maculaire et de nombreuses formes de cancer.

J'ai vécu une expérience analogue alors que je travaillais dans son laboratoire. Je cherchais à isoler les premiers inhibiteurs de la croissance des vaisseaux sanguins (des substances de poids moléculaire élevé). Il fallait pour cela développer un test d'activité biologique pour observer l'inhibition de la croissance des vaisseaux sanguins.

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