The big C: cancer vs cardiovascular disease – the importance of translational medicine

by Beth Webb

Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease

Cancer and cardiovascular disease (CVD) are the two-leading causes of death worldwide. However, survival rates for both diseases are higher than ever suggesting that people are more likely to suffer from both cancer and CVD in their lifetime. CVD includes all heart and circulatory diseases such as; coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack, congenital heart disease, hypertension, stroke, thrombosis and vascular dementia.

Just as there are over 200 types of cells in your body, there are actually over 200 types of cancer. Cancer was originally diagnosed as a disease of abnormal cell proliferation; however, it has since been classified as a genetic disease. Cancer is now recognised as a collection of diseases characterised by the alterations that occur to important regulatory pathways.

Figure 1. A schematic of a cancer cell in the blood surrounded by red blood cells

Cancer and CVD have been commonly regarded as two separate diseases, however they are more closely linked than previously realised. Both cancer and CVD have shared characteristics, genetics and molecular mechanisms, along with common risk factors which play a key role in their pathogenesis. These risk factors include obesity and diabetes, and emerging evidence suggests this is linked to shared biological mechanisms. As cancer survival rates are increasing, there has been an increase in the overlap between these two diseases with many cancer survivors having an increased risk of CVD. While many cancer survivors have an increased risk of CVD, it has also been noted that deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a common complication within malignant cancer. It has been suggested that there are many aspects of malignant cancer that have the potential to drive thrombosis. Certain features of tumour biology behave in a prothrombotic nature which can also encourage tumour cells to invade tissues and form metastases. With the primary disease rightly in focus, DVT can often be mistaken as side effects to anti-cancer therapeutics. DVT signs are often not obvious and is rarely discussed with patients undergoing chemotherapy meaning that many cancer patients are not aware of their increased risk of developing DVT or CVD alongside cancer or many years after. It is the shared pathways between cancer and CVD that are potential targets for the development of novel drugs for prevention of both diseases. This brings into question the importance of interdisciplinary research and translational medicine regarding these two life threatening diseases.

What is Translational Medicine?

Translational medicine is a growing discipline within biomedical research, it combines the advancement and discovery of new diagnostic tools and treatments using a multidisciplinary, collaborative and bench-to-bedside approach. Translational medicine incorporates molecular medicine, intellectual property, financing, regulation, preclinical and clinical trial studies, among many other disciplines. It has become central to the idea of converting basic scientific discoveries into diagnostic and therapeutic tools to treat disease and ultimately improve human health. The interdisciplinary nature of translational medicine means that it can be complex in the interactions between disciplines and among academia, industry, government and patient organisations.

Why is Translational medicine so important in the context of cancer and CVD?

Cancer and CVD are both very complex, nevertheless there is some similarity in their molecular mechanisms that mean an interdisciplinary research approach may be very useful. Combining both different aspects of research and a clinical approach, translational medicine has the potential to provide diagnostic tools and treatments for diseases such as cancer and CVD. Studies that look at the risk of developing CVD during or after cancer and vice versa could bridge the gap between cancer and CVD research, providing possible prevention and treatment for these complex diseases.

About me:

I have just started a PhD researching the role of Adenylyl Cyclase 6 in platelets in relation to haemostasis and thrombosis at the University of Leeds. Prior to this I worked for over a year as a research assistant, also at the University of Leeds, working on a novel project relating to blood coagulation and thrombosis.  During my PhD I will be focussing on the cell signalling side of platelets and their functions. To do this I will be using techniques such as aggregation assays, immunoblotting and flow cytometry. I look forward to see where the project takes me!

I studied my undergrad degree in Biochemistry at the University of Huddersfield with a research placement year. It was during this placement year that I decided that I wanted to go into research, particularly cardiovascular. During my final year of my BSc I undertook a project relating to colon cancer and it was during this project I learnt about the overlap between cardiovascular disease and cancer. It combined two research areas that I found truly fascinating.

Twitter: @beth_webb29

Further Reading:

British Heart Foundation. (2018). Heart disease and cancer — what links two of the world’s most deadly diseases?. Access here [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018].

Koene, R., Prizment, A., Blaes, A. and Konety, S. (2016). Shared Risk Factors in Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer. Circulation, 133(11), pp.1104-1114.

Watson, H., Keeling, D., Laffan, M., Tait, R. and Makris, M. (2015). Guideline on aspects of cancer-related venous thrombo

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