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Spring 1999

Young Guns
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Luisa Arispe
Assistant Professor of Cell,
Molecular and Developmental Biology
College of Letters and Science

Luisa Arispe's laboratory hums with a question that may be the most critical yet in the field of cancer research: What makes blood vessels grow? Which genes turn them on and turn them off -- in fetal development, in wound healing and, especially, in laying down lifelines for tumor growth?

"Really understanding the nuances is going to be key," says Arispe.

Born in Spain and raised in Argentina and Brazil, Arispe received her Ph.D. and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in cellular molecular biology at the University of Washington. She was a researcher at Harvard Medical School until April, when she moved to UCLA to continue promising research in the molecular underpinnings of tumor growth.

The technical term for Arispe's line of research is molecular regulation of angiogenesis. It is best understood by the root words angio for "vessel" and genesis, beginnings. Using such research it appears that Arispe and her team have found a powerful inhibitor of blood-vessel growth in tumors. A tumor cannot grow without a robust blood supply; once it is established and flourishing, attacking it all too often becomes a mission of mass destruction, wiping out healthy cells in the process.

Arispe's approach has been to cut off the blood supply by identifying unique characteristics of the signals given to blood vessels that supply malignant cells and developing ways to suppress them. In essence, she interferes with the power supply to a traffic signal poised to give vessels a green light if they supply tumor cells. Nearby signals, which give the go-ahead to vessels performing valuable functions such as wound-healing, are left untouched.

Arispe hopes her research can lead to streamlined tactics that will spare patients the hardships that come with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. So far, early results have been encouraging.

"Things are moving very fast," she says. "We're thrilled."

Indeed, if all goes according to plan, a human clinical trial could begin in two years.

-- B.B.

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