New blood vessel growth in and around a tumor is important because it allows that tumor to keep on growing. Tumors, just like other parts of your body, require a blood supply that deliver nutrients and oxygen to the tumor and remove waste products. Tumors grow by invading nearby tissue and by spreading throughout the body to form new colonies of cancer cells, a process called the metastases of the tumor. In order to support this ever increasing mass of tumor, there must be a parallel growth of the blood vessels nearby the tumor to continue to feed its ever-increasing appetite.
This proliferation of new blood vessel growth is called the angiogenesis. The process of angiogenesis is controlled by chemical signals within the body. During the normal course of one’s life, such as the growth in children or the repair of damaged blood vessels, the body will stimulate the growth and repair of its own blood vessels. However, when this proliferation of blood vessel growth becomes out of control, problems will begin. Tumors are able to send these same sorts of signals to nearby cells causing the blood vessels to expand and to grow. The picture below shows the red blood vessels growing around a tumor.
The work on angiogenesis was pioneered by Dr. Judah Folkman, a professor at Harvard Medical School. In 1971 he reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, that solid tumors were dependent upon the angiogenesis of their host’s blood vessels in order to grow. His idea was that if you could stop the growth of the nearby blood vessels, then you could stop the growth of the tumor. Stopping its further growth should be distinguished from killing the tumor. Folkman first noticed this phenomenon in his lab, together with his lab partner Dr. Robert Langer. They were randomly injecting tumors with different substances, looking under the microscope to see if any of these substances would actually kill the advancing tumor. Folkman noticed that in one test tube containing a tumor, that the injection of a couple of grains of shark cartilage made the blood vessels shrink away from the site of the injection. However, they went on to test a variety of other substances to see if there would be a likewise reaction of the blood vessels.
Medical researchers who are searching for a cure for cancer are ultimately looking for a substance that can be patented and therefore protected and sold to the pharmaceutical industry who would then continue its very expensive development using human trials. Unfortunately naturally-occurring substances such as shark cartilage cannot be patented, making their further study a waste of further research time and funding — that is if your goal was to profit from the sale of the patent to a drug company. While Dr. Folkman abandoned further research with shark cartilage, an entire cottage industry soon developed from his theory. A Dr William Lane (nutritionist and biochemist) took Folkman’s idea and started a company called Cartilade, which later morphed into a company called Lane Labs, with his son Andrew Lane as president. Dr. Lane appeared on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace around 1993 touting that his company had produced a promising cure for cancer.
Dr. Lane claimed that their shark cartilage pills, taken orally (not injected) could cure a variety of medical problems including diseases such as cancer and arthritis in his 4 published books – Sharks Don’t Get Cancer (1993), Sharks Still Don’t Get Cancer (1996), The Skin Cancer Answer (1998) and Immune Power (1999). He claimed that this was supported by clinical trials in the early 1990’s in Castro’s Cuba, using a very limited number of patients. No U.S. clinical trials were ever performed, nor did he ever receive FDA approval for making his claims.
In 1997 Seagate revealed in a booklet that would become known as ” The Red Book” which contained a series of independent lab reports on shark cartilage in this industry, that the product being sold by Lane was not pure shark cartilage … and was in fact cut with fillers. While Dr. Lane was touting his new cure for cancer to some very desperate people across the country, he failed to mention that the product in his bottle was not what was claimed on his label. Lane’s son Andrew, and his company Lane Labs, sued Seagate and Seagate’s founder, Richard Lentz, in Federal Court in 1997 over the information revealed in The Red Book, claiming that it was damaging their sales and the reputation of their company. Lane lost their lawsuit when they finally withdrew from their case, losing their appetite to go up against the data supplied by 3 independent labs, all corroborating that their product was in fact cut with fillers. Coincidentally at this time, the FDA and FTC were both investigating and developing cases against Lane Labs for false advertising and making false medical claims about their shark cartilage and several other of their products. Lane ignored the government’s demands to cease and desist from continuing to make such claims and eventually paid large fines and had to cease selling some of their products.
During the time of all of this drama, out of curiosity Seagate commissioned a small in-vitro lab study where (real) shark cartilage in the tiny amounts of one one-hundred thousandth and one one-million of a gram was injected into chicken embryo’s which labs use to simulate tumors, just to prove or disprove the original Folkman observation about shark cartilage and blood vessel growth. The amount injected represents less than a couple of grains of sand, less than what could stand on the head of a pin. The results in both cases showed that in a test tube that the blood vessels near the site of the injection completely disappeared. Basically this was in support of Folkman’s observations, but far from the point that it could be used for any medical claims, FDA application for clinical trials, or advertising.
Seagate was certainly not going to go down the road of Lane and company, nor did we have the funds to proceed with clinical trials. All we had was an interesting lab report about a possible anti-angiogenic effect of shark cartilage on the blood vessels within an embryo.
This subject for everyone is depressing. What I would prefer instead is going down 50 feet and swimming with pretty tropical fish.