Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday TED Talk: William Li and the Uses of Angiogenesis

Dr. William Li is the founder and head of the Angiogenesis Foundation, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Angiogenesis (Gr. angeion, "vessel, case") refers to instigating the growth ("genesis") of blood vessels. There are more than 60,000 miles of blood vessels in the human body, and they make the difference to the life or death of individual cells. Dr. Li's particular interest lies in anti-angiogenic therapy, or the prevention of the growth of blood vessels. What would be the use of that? Think about cancer cells: in order to grow and metastasize, they require an ever-increasing supply of blood to bring them nutrients.

Through the Foundation he started, Dr. Li describes in his TED talk the properties of various anti-angiogenic therapies which he and his colleagues have tested. The most promising line of investigation turns out to be the adoption of a diet high in natural anti-angiogenic substances, such as resveratrol in grapes and wine, or lycopene in tomatoes. The reason is that, as Dr. Li points out, by age 60 most men and women have cancer cells in their body -- women in their breasts, and men in their prostates -- and by age 70-80, all people have developed cancerous cells in their thyroid glands. Few of these cells, however, ever turn into malignant, metastasizing cancer, because they never trigger the angiogenesis required to furnish them with an adequate supply of blood.

Dr. Li is excited about the potential prevention of cancer (and perhaps even of obesity, because fat cells require a large blood supply as well) through the ingestion of anti-angiogenic foods. In the talk below, he gives a whole list of them, many of which you probably did not realize had those properties -- strawberries and blueberries, for example. As you watch his talk, look at the shrinkage of blood vessels which his lab slides demonstrate is caused by the growth-inhibiting substances found in common foods. Maybe you will be inspired to eat more of them!

Dr. Li's biography, and other links to his work, may be found at this page. Watch his talk (recommended) in its high-res version at this link, and download it in that and other formats from this page.

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