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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
Tumour 'weapon' under microscope
P43/EMAP protein (revealed here by the immunofluorsecence technique) appears on the surface of human colorectal cancer cells, but not on the surface of normal cells
The protein appears on the surface of tumour cells
Researchers are investigating a new family of proteins which they believe tumours may use to protect themselves.

It is thought the protein helps tumours fight off the body's immune system.

The Tumour Cytokine Biology Group, led by Dr Cliff Murray at the University on Nottingham, has been awarded 750,000 from Cancer Research UK for a five-year study into the protein.

It is hoped the study could lead to better therapies to help the body's immune system fight against cancer.

The group made its discovery during a separate investigation into tumour cells and blood vessels.

Tumour cells have many clever strategies to protect themselves
Dr Cliff Murray

Researchers found that the protein (P43/EMAP II), which is present in and essential to all cells, was behaving abnormally.

Instead of staying within the tumour cells, it was expressed on their surface.

When the protein on the tumour cells came into contact with lymphocytes, the white blood cells that help the body fight cancer, it was causing the lymphocytes to self destruct.

Researchers believe that the protein is somehow re-programmed in tumour cells so instead of performing its normal function within the cells, it takes on a new role to protect the tumour.

'Final weapon'

Dr Murray said: "Tumour cells have many clever strategies to protect themselves, such as avoiding detection.

"This protein is not involved in avoiding detection, but rather fighting the immune system.

"It is sort of like the final weapon a tumour can use to fight off the immune system."

The team of 10 researchers, which has recently moved from Nottingham City Hospital to the new Wolfson Digestive Diseases Centre at the Queen's Medical Centre, will spend the next five years studying the process.

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