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Measures of cell number

More than 18,000 research articles have been published in the last 40 years describing the role of angiogenesis (sprouting of new blood vessels from an existing vascular network) in the onset and/or progression of such diseases as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and diabetes.

One of the most important technical challenges in such studies of angiogenesis is selection of the appropriate assay. There are increasing numbers of angiogenesis assays being described both in vitro and in vivo. It has been proved that it is necessary to use a combination of assays for identification of the cellular and molecular events in angiogenesis and the full range of effects of a given test protein.

Although the endothelial cell whose migration, proliferation, differentiation and structural rearrangement is central to the angiogenic process, it is not the only cell type involved in angiogenesis. The supporting cells (e.g. tumour cells, pericytes, smooth muscle cells and fibroblasts), the extracellular matrix produced by endothelial cells and their apposed mesenchymal cells, and the circulating blood with its cellular and humoral components are also involved. No in vitro assay exists currently to model/simulate this complex process. Whilst in vivo the components of the process are all present, disparate results and limitations also exist depending on specific microenvironments, organ sites, species used and manner of administration of test substances. In this review, we describe the in vitro and in vivo assays currently being used to study angiogenesis and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each approach