In what is being claimed as a major breakthrough, scientists have identified a protein produced by pregnant lizards, which could help to explain the origins and treatment of cancer in humans.
An international team, led by Bridget Murphy of Sydney University, has discovered the protein known as VEGF111, which is pivotal to development of lizard placenta as it helps blood vessels grow in the uterus during pregnancy.
"Our egg-laying ancestors probably never got cancer, but things changed when we started having live young. Embryos need an extensive network of blood vessels to allow them to grow. So do tumours.
"I found that the three-toed skink, which gives birth to live young, uses a particularly powerful protein to encourage the growth of blood vessels. The only other place where this protein has been found is in pre-cancerous cells grown in the laboratory," Murphy said.
According to the scientists, future research on unlocking the secrets of how the protein works might provide the basis of new therapies for cancer, and to promote wound healing or the regeneration of blood vessels in patients with heart disease.