A molecule that disables the mechanism that causes deadly muscle loss in cancer patients is being hailed as a possible treatment breakthrough.
Researchers at Birmingham's Aston University have isolated a PIF protein that destroys muscle and prevents the creation of new tissue in a process known as cachexia.
Says Professor Michael Tisdale, who leads the team: "Half of all cancer patients experience weight loss, and in the case of pancreatic cancer it's 85%.
"Depletion of the body's fat and skeletal muscle eventually leads to death because it erodes the respiratory muscles. Patients with the greatest weight loss have the shortest survival times."
The next step is to identify the muscle cell receptor molecule targeted by PIF. It will then be possible to produce a laboratory-manufactured monoclonal antibody that prevents PIF binding to the receptor.
"We've created an antibody which is capable of blocking this receptor so PIF can't attack the skeletal muscle," Prof Tisdale told the British Science Festival at the University of Surrey in Guildford. "What we're doing now is developing a humanised antibody for testing in patients."