Scientists begin to understand secrets of "cancer-proof" mice

In collaboration with the Press Association

US scientists who discovered a breed of mice with an unusual resistance to cancer say they have begun to understand how its natural defences against the disease work.

The mice have immune systems that are able to find, surround and overwhelm cancer cells, preventing the disease from taking hold.

Researchers now believe that this is due to a unique gene fault that enables the mice's white blood cells to find cancer cells and override their defences.

Dr Kat Arney, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "Research like this is helping scientists to harness the power of the immune system to fight cancer.

"Although at an early stage, the team's results allow us to understand more about the ways that white blood cells recognise and kill cancer cells.

"So far, this work has been done using mice and further research is needed before we'll know if it can be translated to humans."

Among normal mice, cancers cells are able to avoid immune responses by sending out signals telling the white blood cells that they are harmless.

Among the mice with the mutated white blood cells this message becomes a warning to attack, however.

Previous research had shown that normal mice that had received blood transfused from the resistant strain exhibited the same cancer-fighting properties, and that the cells were effective against a range of different tumour types.

Much research has concentrated on the apparent differences in cancer types, but this suggests that some tumours have common vulnerabilities, suggested the research team.

The study was conducted by the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and is published in the journal Cancer Immunity.