Australian researchers have discovered a gene that can reverse angiogenesis - the growth of blood vessels inside a tumour. They believe their discovery could slow down the growth of tumours.
Their work, led by associate Professor Ruth Ganss, is a world first and has been recognised by internationally-renowned scientific journal Nature
in its weekly edition, published online Thursday.
Professor Ganss of the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research, described the gene, named RGS5, as a "master gene" which, when removed, can trigger a process capable of destroying cancerous tumours.
"It's the uncontrolled growth of blood vessels and the formation of abnormal blood vessels inside tumours that 'feed' them, allowing them to grow and stopping the immune system from wiping out the tumour," Professor Ganss said.
"What we've shown is that RGS5 is a master gene in angiogenesis and that, when it is removed, angiogenesis reverses and the blood vessels in tumours appear more normal."
Professor Ganss said she and her team of 12 had been working on the breakthrough for "many, many years" and hoped it would trigger a new perspective in the fight against cancer.
"The novel aspect is it will hopefully cause open-mindedness in saying we can manipulate the vessels and we can manipulate the tumour. That's the message out of this," she said.
Mathew Vadas, the executive director of the Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology, compared the discovery with Professor Ian Frazer's lauded cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, which earned him the title of Australian of the Year for 2005.
"Ian's [discovery] was a little bit further along, it was for a vaccine rather than a therapy but this has got international acclaim by being published in Nature
," Professor Vadas said.
"It's got immense promise. I don't think at the moment you could say it is as important as Ian's but it could become [as important].
"It's got very, very wide medical implications for diseases that go beyond cancer. Potentially it has enormous significance."
Kidney cancer sufferer Philip Rooke-Jones, 53, from Professor Ganss's home state of Western Australia, said it was discoveries such as these that gave people with the condition hope, reports Daniel Emerson of the Sydney Morning Herald.
"When you first get diagnosed with terminal cancer, it's pretty devastating and a bit hard to handle so any new research that looks promising has huge benefit and gives you mentally something to hang on to and look forward to," he said.
"It's got huge potential to reduce kidney cancer, renal cancer, if not for me then for other people."
Sandra O'Toole, a St Vincent's Hospital pathologist and clinical research fellow at Sydney medical research body the Garvan Institute, said the discovery could lead to more targeted therapy which could reduce side effects during treatment.
"It's really exciting to see Australian researchers with modest funding can produce such research," she said.
"I think Australia really punches above its weight."