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Scientists discover how to ‘switch off’ cancer

Scientists have found a code for turning off cancer, it was announced today. In exciting experiments, they made cancerous breast and bladder cells benign again.

And they believe many other types of cancer should be in their grasp. They said that their work reveals ‘an unexpected new biology that provides the code, the software for turning off cancer’.

Most importantly, it uncovers ‘a new strategy for cancer therapy’. Despite advances in medicine, cancer kills more than 150,000 Britons each year and ruins the lives of many more.

The work is still at an early stage but brings with it hope that cancer will take fewer lives in the future. Unlike conventional cancer drugs, which work by killing cancer, the US work aims to disarm it and render them harmless.

The breakthrough focuses on a protein called PLEKHA7 that helps healthy cells clump together. The research, from the Mayo Clinic in Florida, showed it to be missing or faulty in a range of cancers. When this happens, key genetic instructions to the cells are scrambled and they turn cancerous.

A research team, led by Panos Anastasiadis, was able to reset the instructions – turning off the cancer. Experiments in a dish showed that human cells from highly dangerous bladder cancers can be made normal again. Dr Anastasiadis said: ‘Initial experiments in some aggressive types of cancer are indeed very promising.’

He thinks the approach, detailed in the journal Nature Cell Biology, would apply to most cancers, other than brain and blood cancers. This includes lung cancer which is Britain’s biggest cancer killer and to blame for more than one in five cancer deaths.

However, much more research is needed before the technique is tried out on people for the first time. And even if the therapy did help patients, it is likely they would still need chemotherapy.

British experts described the research as ‘beautiful’ and ‘absolutely fascinating’. But they cautioned that it is still a long way from helping people. Henry Scowcroft, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information manager, said: ‘This important study solves a long-standing biological mystery, but we mustn’t get ahead of ourselves.

‘There’s a long way to go before we know whether these findings, in cells grown in a laboratory, will help treat people with cancer.’ He added that such work is ‘crucial’ if ‘the encouraging progress against cancer we’ve seen in recent years’ is to continue. DAILY MAIL

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