A breakthrough in cancer research at Griffith University could signal important changes in the treatment of the disease and lead to stronger anti-cancer vaccines.

Associate Professor Steve Ralph believes the results of a key cancer research project are significant because of the marked effect in slowing down the growth of tumours.

“We have shown that cancer cells secrete a protein called Galectin-1 in high levels that protect cancers like a shield or shell around them,” Dr Ralph, who led a team of Griffith Health Institute researchers, said.

“This protein promotes the blood supply to cancers as well as killing any immune cells before they have a chance to attack the cancer.

“By using a drug design based on a sugar molecule, we can now block the action of this protein with the result that the growth of breast cancers and skin cancers in mice was very much slowed down.

“We have shown that the sugar-based drug works by blocking the shield, allowing immune killer cells to then enter into the tumours so that they are able to attack and kill the cancer cells.”

Dr Ralph has worked on the project since 2002.

“Our results are truly remarkable and scientifically amazing,” he said.

The drug also disrupts the blood supply to cancers. The treatment has been shown in the animal models of cancer to greatly increase the potency of cancer therapies and cancer vaccines.

“This novel treatment has not shown any side effects in mice given very high levels and is likely to have huge benefits for making anticancer vaccines much stronger.

“It should also help make other immune-based cancer treatments more effective when combined with our drug.

“My research team has made a big contribution to answering why cancers are so difficult to cure.

“With the recent FDA approved Yervoy therapy, we expect that human clinical trials will show similar findings with our drug, heralding a new way to treat cancer as we know it.”