Wouldn’t it be great if getting rid of cancer was as simple as flicking a switch?

Well, it might be.

A professor from Tel Aviv University thinks he may have uncovered a way to do just that when he identified a “switch” in plants that halts tumor growth.

The results are published online in the journal Current Biology.

The switch is actually a fat molecule that controls a group of proteins in the plant called ROPs. Humans have a very similar group of proteins. The proteins tell cancer when to metastasize, but they’re also responsible for wound healing and neural brain development.

“When these proteins are turned ‘on,’ they can initiate processes like cell division and growth,” Shaul Yalovsky, the lead researcher, said in a university press release. “Through our genetic engineering, these proteins could be manipulated in humans to speed up tissue healing, or turned off to slow or stop the growth of tumors.”

Yalovsky’s process works by using “mutant molecules” that block the ROP proteins from doing their job, interrupting their message to create tumors.

Applying the technology in a laboratory, Yalovsky says he can now reshape cells, grow new tissues and fight off bacterial or viral invaders. Future applications could even include agriculture and therapies for those with degenerative brain diseases.

Image from Flickr.