Cancer occurs when cells begin to divide uncontrollable, growing beyond the confines of its tissue infrastructure, spreading through the body taking over resources and leading to the death of the organism.
It is a chief scourge against longevity, and is the second leading cause of death.
Cancer is able to grow unchecked because it can evade the immune systems ability to detect and destroy its cells.
Research out of Stanford University suggests a single new drug could potentially eliminate all forms of cancer.
The work is based on an antibody created in the lab which attaches to a cell surface protein called CD47. Normally CD47 is expressed on all cells in the body which flags them as being self, so that the immune system wont attack them.
For cancers to survive and rapidly divide, they too must express this protein. Last year, the researchers found that if they treated with the anti-CD47 antibody both in culture and living mice, tumor cells were eliminated.
In further research this year, the research group discovered that these antibodies also prompted immune cells to attack the cancer via a different mechanism. When macrophages attacked cancer cells with the anti-cd47 antibody, they then induced programming of other immune cells called T-cells to recognize and attack the cancer.
Thus treatment with the antibody results in a two pronged immune attack against cancer
It remains unknown if this treatment would be effective in humans with cancer, but that is the next step. The lab has already received a $20 million grant to study it in humans, and trials will begin in 2014.