Researchers claim that a compound derived from tiny lichens (moss) could be used in chemotherapy drugs to kill cancer cells.
Laboratory tests of the compound - usnic acid - have shown that the substance is an effective anti-cancer agent, and that it lacks the toxic side-effects of traditional chemotherapy drugs.
Dr Virginia Appleyard, from Dundee University, said that unlike current drugs, usnic acid does not provoke DNA damage that can later result in the development of a secondary tumour.
"The interesting thing about this research is that many of the current drugs in chemotherapy provoke DNA damage. This can result in a secondary tumour developing later in life, especially for young patients. But the usnic acid did not produce this same effect," the Scotsman quoted her, as saying.
Usnic acid is already being used in anti-inflammatory and anti-viral drugs, but boffins are now hopeful that it can be used for cancer therapies as well.
The compund was tested on breast and lung cancer cells, and the study team said it could prove effective against many different types of cancer. Of late, researchers have been trying to find natural sources to derive compounds which may fight the cancer.
Dr Appleyard said cancer researchers were now moving on to animal trials of the compound, which if successful, would pave the path for the development of clinical trials.