One of the genetic drivers of cancer could be turned around and used as a treatment against the disease, scientists from the University of California, San Diego have suggested.

The researchers looked at a common characteristic of cancer cells called aneuploidy, where cells have the wrong number of chromosomes.

As expected, they found that mice with aneuploidy were more likely to develop cancers. More surprisingly, when they added even more genetic errors to mice with a high level of aneuploidy, it slowed the rate of tumour growth .

They also found that a genetic change that would normally lead to cancer actually delayed tumour growth in mice with aneuploidy.

Drugs that can trigger aneuploidy in cancer cells that already have other genetic errors could kill the cells.

“This study opens up a whole series of potential therapeutic targets for cancer,” said Dr Beth Weaver, a co-author of the report.

The study is published in the journal Cancer Cell.