The Department of Biomedicine

BBB Seminar/The Falch Lecture 2013: Kari Alitalo

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Kari Alitalo
Wihuri Research Institute and Translational Cancer Biology Program, Biomedicum Helsinki, University of Helsinki, Finland

The Falch Lecture 2013

The Board of Søren Falch Foundation is entitled to invite renowned researchers at a very high international level to deliver the Falch Lecture at the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Bergen. This year’s lecturer will be Professor Kari Alitalo, University of Helsinki, Finland.

Professor Alitalo is a member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters and a foreign associated member of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. He and his group have worked with growth factors for blood and lymphatic vessels, and became famous for discoveries of several receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) and the first growth factor capable to induce lymphangiogenesis: vascular endothelial growth factor C (VEGF-C). These findings form the basis for new treatments for cancer, heart and vascular diseases.


Biological functions and therapeutic potential of endothelial growth factors 

Because of the importance of the growth of new blood vessels, or angiogenesis, in tumor progression, the first anti-angiogenic agents have been approved for clinical use. Although these treatments have been successful in the treatment of many types of solid tumors, most patients are either refractory or eventually acquire resistance to anti-angiogenic therapeutics. A combination of angiogenesis inhibitors based on solid knowledge of the major interacting angiogenesis signaling pathways could be used to significantly advance the efficacy of tumor therapy.

The idea of proangiogenic therapy is to grow new functional blood vessels and thus restore blood flow to ischemic tissue. In addition to angiogenesis of blood capillaries, growth of larger arterioles/arteries (arteriogenesis, or collateral formation) is especially beneficial for this goal. Several attempts have been made to stimulate angiogenesis and arteriogenesis in tissue ischemia, with limited success. One of the obstacles has been the property of angiogenic growth factors to promote vascular leakage, leading to tissue edema and fibrin deposition. Despite intensive efforts, growth factors suitable for angiogenic therapy have not yet provided significant help in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. A better understanding of the biology of the vascular growth factors can facilitate therapeutics development for cardiovascular diseases. The growth of lymphatic vessels, lymphangiogenesis, is actively involved in a number of pathological processes including tissue inflammation and tumor dissemination but is insufficient in patients suffering from lymphedema, a debilitating condition characterized by chronic tissue edema and impaired immunity. Lymphangiogenic growth factors provide possibilities to treat these diseases.

Chair: Helge Wiig, Department of Biomedicine