For the first time, scientists have identified a specific protein on the surface of tumor cells that marks them as being cancer, a discovery that may open an important new approach to diagnosis and treatment, a Belgian research team announced yesterday. The team also identified the gene that makes the marker.
The marker, a so-called antigen designated MZ2-E, seems to result from a gene's being switched on accidentally only in cancer cells, not on normal cells. If that is confirmed, it could mean that scientists have found an "exploitable difference" that may be used to kill cancer cells without harming normal cells, researchers said.
The finding, reported in today's Science, may provide new tools for therapy based on the body's main line of defense against disease, the immune system.