A compound that appears to target the master cells which help breast cancers grow and spread has been discovered by US scientists.
In tests in mice, salinomycin killed breast cancer stem cells far more effectively than some existing drugs, and slowed tumour growth.
The drug, a farm antibiotic, has yet to be tested in humans, the journal Cell reports.
But UK experts warned a human version could be some years away , BBC News reports.
Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute in Boston, a leader of the research and a scientific adviser to President Obama, said: “Many therapies kill the bulk of a tumour only to see it regrow. This raises the prospect of new kinds of anti-cancer therapies.”
Though the new study, which is published in the journal Cell, investigated only breast-cancer stem cells, these master cells are also known to be involved in many other tumours.
The identification of an agent that can kill cancer stem cells, which are notoriously hard to treat, thus suggests that it may be possible to achieve similar results for other forms of cancer ,Times Online reports.
However, it may be the best part of a decade before such compounds are ready to be used on humans, the journal Cell reported.
One possibility is using the new drugs in combination with standard therapies to mop up cancer stem cells left behind by traditional treatment.
The search for the cancer stem cell killer began with a library of 16,000 natural and commercial chemical compounds ,Scottish Daily Record reports.