The researchers said they have created the first three-dimensional image of a protein receptor in white blood cells which, when malfunctioning, can cause leukaemia.
"It's called a receptor because it interacts with a hormone... in this case a hormone called GM-CSF," said Professor Michael Parker.
Parker, from St Vincent's Institute in Melbourne, said in certain types of diseases such as leukaemia, something goes wrong with the receptor.
"And when that happens, it can cause uncontrolled growth and that's what cancer is about," he told AFP.
He said because the new research shows precisely what the receptor looks like and also how it works, scientists can begin to design new drugs to target the deadly abnormal blood cells.
"At the moment, many leukaemias are treated with chemotherapy that destroys the diseased blood cells and bone marrow as well as normal cells," he said.
"We hope that this discovery will lead to targeted therapies, more specific to the malfunctioning cells seen in diseases such as leukaemia."
Parker said this particular protein receptor had been involved in some of the most aggressive and deadly forms of leukaemia.
"I think that's a real positive of this work, it could target those (diseases) that are just untreatable at the moment or very difficult to treat," he said.
The research, published in the US-based science journal Cell, was a collaboration between researchers at St Vincent's Institute and the Hanson Institute in Adelaide.
Both institutes have signed an agreement with biopharmaceutical company CSL Limited to work to develop therapeutic antibodies.