Professor Arun Dharmarajan, from the School of Biomedical Sciences at Perth’s Curtin University, said the stem cells of the cancers are the “seeds” from which the tumours grow, and were often resistant to treatments including chemotherapy.
But in research tests, the new protein, called Secreted Frizzled-Related Protein 4 (sFRP4) appears to make the cancer stem cells more sensitive to chemotherapy, and could help to destroy them for good.
“We may have a really effective treatment to combat cancer which would be incredibly exciting,” Prof Dharmarajan said.
When the proteins were used in combination with current drugs, the results were twice as effective in reducing the size of tumours.
Other types of cancer, including head, neck, breast, ovary, prostate and mesothelioma are being tested with a similar approach, and it is hoped similar results could be achieved.