Researchers at the University of Cambridge University have discovered a protein in cancer tumor that suppresses immunity, which could potentially help produce improved vaccine to fight the disease.

A type of stromal cell found in many cancers that expresses a protein called – fibroblast activation protein alpha (FAP), is the key to suppressing immune response in the cancer tumor.

The study, published in the journal Science, said that if these cells are destroyed, the immune system in an individual can be improved to fight cancer.

"Finding the specific cells within the complex mixture of the cancer stroma that prevents immune killing is an important step. Further studying how these cells exert their effects may contribute to improved immunological therapies by allowing us to remove a barrier that the cancer has constructed," said Douglas Fearon, Sheila Joan Smith Professor of Immunology of the Department of Medicine at the University of Cambridge.

Most vaccines that build the immunity in the body to attack cancerous cells in tumors have never affected the growth of tumors. This finding could change the situation.

"These studies are in the mouse, and although there is much overlap between the mouse and human immune systems, we will not know the relevance of these findings in humans until we are able to interrupt the function of the tumor stromal cells expressing FAP in patients with cancer,” said Professor Fearon.