Scientists say, an enzyme that can rid cells of a gene believed to be responsible for a wide range of cancers has been discovered.
Dr Jorg Hartkamp and Dr Stefan Roberts have found that the protease HtrA2 can "clean" cells of the oncogene WT1, which is found at high levels in many leukaemias and solid cancers such as breast and lung cancer.
Their work has given drug designers a new target which will allow them to develop treatments for all these cancers in which WT1 expression is elevated.
WT1 is a well-known factor in cancer. It suppresses the development of Wilms' tumour of the kidney, a rare cancer.
This latest study - published in the journal Molecular Cell and funded by the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK and the Association of International Cancer Research (AICR) - is the first to identify the enzyme that can rid cells of WT1.
Dr Hartkamp, at the University of Manchester's Faculty of Life Sciences, said: "The cancer causing role of WT1 has been known for many years, but how it worked was not understood so we studied a regulatory domain of WT1 to see what modified its activity. We carried out a fishing experiment and discovered the role of the protease HtrA2 instead, by accident. This discovery has a much bigger impact.
"We have filled in the black box of WT1. It is this protease that is doing the trick - it can clean cells of WT1."