Scientists at US Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have found a new way to weaken the protein that is thought to play an important role in leukemia and other cancers.
The protein in question, called Notch, is often found to be damaged or mutated in patients with a form of blood cancer known as T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), reports the BBC.
While examining the structure of Notch, the researchers isolated a potential weak spot in its structure.
They employed a state-of-the-art technique, using chemical braces to mould protein snippets called peptides, into specific three-dimensional shapes.
These 'stapled' peptides are readily absorbed by cells, and are so tiny they can be deployed to alter gene regulation at specific sites.
After designing and testing several synthetic stapled peptides, the researchers identified one that was able to disrupt Notch's function.
When tested in mice, it was found to limit the growth of cancer cells. Analysis showed that activity was depressed in genes, both directly and indirectly controlled by Notch.
The breakthrough raises hopes of a new type of therapy that could treat cancer and other diseases.
The study features in the journal Nature.