Scientists possibly discovered the key to "turning off" cancer by reverting malignant cells back to their previous states.
Cells constantly divide to maintain their populations, and molecules called microRNAs stop cells from dividing by producing PLEKHA7 proteins.
When a cell turns cancerous, however, this protein production does not occur and the cells' bonds continue to divide, according to The Telegraph.
But scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Florida found restoring PLEKHA7 levels in cancer cells turned those cancerous cells back into normal cells.
The team likened the reversal process to activating the brakes on a car.
Professor Panos Anastasiadis of the clinic's department for cancer biology reportedly said,
We should be able to re-establish the brakes and restore normal cell function. Initial experiments in some aggressive types of cancer are indeed very promising. It represents an unexpected new biology that provides the code, the software for turning off cancer.
The scientists applied the technique to aggressive breast, lung and bladder cancer cells grown in a lab. Once these cells were halted from multiplying endlessly, they allegedly became completely harmless.
MicroRNAs can be injected directly into cells or tumors the scientists say, which could possibly eliminate the need for radiation and harmful chemotherapy.
The Telegraph reports Dr. Chris Bakal of London's Institute for Cancer Research said,
This is an unexpected finding... Normal cells touch each other and form junctions then they shut down proliferation. If there is a way to turn that [process] back on then that would be a way to stop [tumors] from growing.
It isn't clear if the success observed in lab-grown cells could be replicated in a human with cancer, but the research undoubtedly represents a major leap in the scientific community's knowledge of the deadly disease.
The team originally published its findings in Natural Cell Biology.