For years, doctors have been hindered in their efforts to help cancer patients because healthy cells are destroyed along with tumours under the onslaught of cytotoxic chemotherapy drugs. The treatment often leaves patients feeling more ill than they did beforehand.
Now, however, using a genetic technique, it may be possible to help the healthy cells survive - thereby reducing unpleasant side-effects, reducing the chances of secondary tumours, and increasing the likelihood of a cure.
Dr Joseph Rafferty, of Manchester's Paterson Institute, explained: "The theory is quite simple. If you sprayed your whole garden with weedkiller, you would kill the weeds as well as the flowers. But if the flowers could be altered to produce a substance that protected them, only the weeds would die.
"We've managed to get cells in a laboratory to produce such a substance so that chemotherapy only affects the cells we want to kill," he said.
Scientists have successfully developed a mutant version of the protein ATase which repairs DNA inside cancers and thwarts the benefits of chemotherapy.
Substances have in the past been used to inactivate ATase and stop the tumours repairing themselves. But this has had the drawback of affecting healthy cells as well.
Now a mutant version of the protein, which is unaffected by the inactivators, has been developed.
Backed by the Cancer Research Campaign, the findings could mean that healthy cells will escape unharmed while cancer cells are made less resistant to treatment.Reuse content