Italian researchers found a naturally occurring gene, known as Trop-2, to be active in tumour growth in nearly three quarters of cancers, including cancers of the breast, colon, stomach, lung, prostate, ovaries and pancreas. Currently, little is understood about the function of the gene but it is known that it plays a role in the development of babies in the womb and in later cell division and growth.

This is the first time researchers found just one marker to be involved in so many human cancers. Most previously found markers showed either lower figures or were related to only a subgroup of tumours.

The Italians have been examining the action of the Trop-2 gene for three years after theorizing that its generative action during pregnancy could also mean the gene was involved in tumour growth. After the analyses were done, the gene’s over-activity in human tumours has been found.

Other studies done on colon-cancer patients showed that the gene was associated with more aggressive disease and death due to cancer. There are high hopes for treating pancreatic cancer, for which there is no effective treatment currently, if new therapies arise from these findings.

The researchers are hoping that the first clinical trials for antibody-based treatments would begin by the end of next year and possibly available to patients within five years.