Australian researchers have discovered a "revolutionary" new way to stop the growth of colon and stomach cancers, which could lead to a new cancer-fighting drug within three years. Matthias Ernst at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute explains that white blood cells called macrophages help to heal wounds and remove damaged cells in the body. But those with a protein called hematopoietic cell kinase (HCK) can also be hijacked by cancer cells to fuel cancer, reports the Herald Sun. As Ernst puts it to the Age, "the more HCK activity a macrophage has, the more it nurtures cancer cell growth and survival." Ernst believed, however, that inhibiting the HCK protein would prevent cancer cells from taking over.
When researchers used a drug-like molecule to inhibit the protein in animal tests, existing colon and stomach cancers stopped growing. The appearance of new cancers was also reduced, reports News.com.au. "Our discovery could potentially offer a new and complementary approach to chemotherapy and immunotherapy as options for treating gastrointestinal cancers," which is especially important as colon cancers are usually resistant to most immunotherapy treatments, Ernst says. He adds a drug that inhibits HCK could be ready for clinical trials within three years and may also treat other cancers. An Australian health minister calls it a "revolutionary development" with "the potential to one day save thousands of lives." (The risk of colon and rectal cancer is rising.)