Researchers in London have discovered proteins that regulate how the human body responds to changes in oxygen levels, potentially unlocking new pathways for fighting diseases like cancer.

Scientists at Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Nottingham found a previously unknown level of hypoxic regulation at a molecular level in human cells.

Diseases like cancer can develop and spread by highjacking the natural response to oxygen levels, creating their own rogue blood supply as cells multiply. The newly discovered proteins, called ‘LIM domain containing proteins,’ manage hypoxic response. If the proteins are depleted, the response can function out of control and contribute to cancer formation.

The discovery is published in the international journal Nature Cell Biology.