RESEARCHERS at Essex University may have discovered a breakthrough cancer treatment.

They are working on a protein that slows the growth of prostate cancer cells.

Lab tests have shown the protein works evenwhen other treatments have not.

The findings of the joint research team from Imperial College London and Essex University were published on Friday in the journal Oncotarget.

An outline of the research was also presented at the Essex Biomedial Sciences Institute annual conference at Colchester General Hospital.

Dr Greg Brooke, from the School of Biological Sciences at Essex University, said: “So far, the research has only been carried out in prostate cancer cells in the laboratory.

“These proof-of-principle experiments are really promising, but more work is needed before these therapies are ready for clinical trials.

“The next step is to continue research in cell models to refine the therapy into something which is specific, potent and easy to deliver.

“It’s exciting to think this research could offer new hope for men with advanced prostate cancer.”

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men with about 37,000 diagnosed with the disease in the UK each year.

Many such cancers develop very slowly, but in a small number of cases they grow more quickly and spread, sometimes proving fatal.

Conventional treatments target cancer proteins which stimulate tumour growth, but the cancer cells become resistant to treatment after an average of two years.

It is hoped to develop the new protein into a treatment which can be tested on patients within five years.

Dr Bruce Sizer, a consultant oncologist at Essex County Hospital, in Colchester, who has led on a number of significant cancer treatment trials, said: “This is very exciting, and if something like this work from Essex University came to trial, we would definitely be keen to be involved.

“The area they are working on is much more suitable as a possible treatment than chemotherapy.”