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COLUMBIA - A new study from the University of Missouri may have found a way to turn cancer cells "off."

The study isolated the molecule responsible for communication among cancer cells, allowing them to spread and multiply in the body. Cancer becomes much more difficult to treat once it spreads or metastasises in the body, making it almost impossible to cut out. However by isolating this molecule researchers say they can control the communication between cells. They do this by introducing a lab-engineered molecule to communicate with the cancer cells, allowing doctors to control the multiplying and in some cases life span, of the cancer cells.

MU researchers tested its version of the molecule on pancreatic cancer cells because those cancer cells tend to be more resilient than others. They carried out the tests in controlled environments, testing it in dishes which allowed them to replicate how the colonies grow in bodies. 

However Dr. Senthil Kumar, an assistant research professor and assistant director of the Comparative Oncology and Epigenetics Laboratory, said the process hopefully would work in other cancer cells.

Kumar said the results so far have been promising, although he would not go so far as to say he was optimistic about this being an eventual cure. Kumar said there is a long way to go before this process could be tested on humans, as no animal testing has taken place. 

Next the study plans on figuring out an effective way to introduce the molecule into animals, where researchers will then proceed to test the procedure on rats and eventually dogs. 

Animal testing will allow the scientists to see how the molecules interact with non-cancer cells. Kumar said in theory normal cells should not be affected by the introduced molecule but admitted he would not know until testing begins. 

Kumar said testing on animals like dogs is very beneficial because they have similar molecular structures when it comes to cancer cells. He expects animal testing to begin within the next year.