IRISH experts believe a new treatment for prostate cancer - which 'starves' tumours of their blood supply - could herald a major breakthrough in the fight against the disease.
Scientists have identified a single molecule that plays a key role in the formation of new blood vessels. Tumours need a constant supply of nutrient-enriched blood to survive and spread.
Leading academics from Bristol and Nottingham universities have worked out how to neutralise this dangerous molecule, halting the production of newly created blood vessels.
And the Irish Cancer Society last night gave a strong welcome to the new findings - Irishmen who develop the disease have one of the highest death rates in Europe.
The research findings highlight how cancer cells can be prevented from multiplying.
The treatment, delivered by injection, has already been shown to halt the growth of prostate tumours in mice.
When scientists injected them three times a week, with a drug to stop molecule SRPK1 from working, their tumour growth halted.
They are confident the procedure could be tested in patients within two years, potentially giving them the ability to stop cancers growing and spreading.
As the procedure specifically targets blood vessels, experts say there is potential for the treatment to be also used in other types of cancers, and also against age-related macular degeneration, the most common form of blindness.
The findings were published in the 'Oncogene' medical journal.
About 3,500 men are diagnosed with the condition every year in Ireland. The Irish Cancer Society said the findings offered hope of new treatments coming on stream in the coming years.
"This breakthrough suggests it stalls the progression of the cancer, benefiting men in advanced stages of the disease.
"It is very welcome as it adds to the store of knowledge in how we can disrupt this type of cancer spreading," a spokeswoman said. "Anybody presenting with prostate cancer could potentially benefit from this kind of treatment."
She said the challenge facing scientists was to replicate the findings in human trials.
"But the fact that the initial trials in animals have been successful is a very positive sign," she added.
"The scientists seem extremely confident with the evidence they have, and I'm sure they will move as quickly as they can to the next stage of clinical trails on humans."
Mr Kashif Siddiqui, consultant urologist at Dublin's Hermitage Medical Clinic, told the Irish Independent the findings were "extremely encouraging".
"It certainly offers hope to us all in the long-term fight against the disease," he said.
Halting 'angiogenesis' - a process through which tumours are able to form blood vessels - was very significant as it cuts off the nutrition supply to the cancers, he added.