Scientists have identified a "rogue gene" that attacks and breaks down a protein that naturally occurs in the body and normally prevents cancer cells from spreading.
Blocking the WWP2 gene results in higher levels of the protein, which in turn renders cancer cells dormant, researchers led by Andrew Chantry, a scientist at the University of East Anglia's School of Biological Sciences, wrote in a paper in Nature Publishing Group's cancer journal Oncogene.
The discovery may, within the next decade, lead to a new generation of drugs to stop the most aggressive forms of cancer, including breast, brain, colon and skin tumors, the researchers said.
The development of medicines that deactivated WWP2 would mean that existing drugs and surgery could be used on primary tumors, with no risk of the disease spreading elsewhere, the authors said.
"The challenge now is to identify a potent drug that will get inside cancer cells and destroy the activity of the rogue gene," Chantry said from the university in Norwich, England. "This is a difficult but not impossible task."
The research was funded by the St. Andrews, Scotland-based Association of International Cancer Research, with support from the Big C Charity in Norwich and the British Skin Foundation.