A single protein may hold the key to turning the tide on lung cancer — still the world’s biggest cancer killer — research published on Tuesday showed.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville found that type 2 receptors for Transforming Growth Factor-b — a family of proteins that controls key functions such as cell growth and death — were missing in non-small cell lung cancer victims.

A check on mice injected with lung cancer cells confirmed the findings, with much smaller and less aggressive tumors developing in those carrying the type 2 TGF-b receptors.

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