Researchers at Cambridge University have discovered the mechanism tumor cells use to protect themselves from the body's immune system, and they say by turning off the mechanism the body might cure itself of the disease, The Daily Telegraph reported Friday.
The team found a protein known as fibroblast activation protein alpha stops the body's immune system from attacking cancer cells.
FAP is found in stromal cells, a kind of cells in the immune system that normally rush to the scene of a wound to aid healing.
The cancer tricks the body into thinking it is an injury, and instead of destroying the tumors it actually nurtures them.
The researchers have discovered turning off FAP in the body allows the immune system to naturally destroy the tumors.
The process has been demonstrated in mice but the researchers say that it should be transferable to humans.
"The research is at an early stage but it is not too far-fetched to suppose that what has been seen in mouse tumors will also be found in human versions of the disease," said Douglas Fearon, the immunologist who led the study.
"It is possible we have found a very big piece of the jigsaw," he said.
The findings could lead to a vaccine to turn off FAP that would not be administered as a prevention in advance but only when cancer is identified in a patient, researchers say.
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